‘Detained’ Ershad being sent abroad

Uncontested polls challenged in HC

Moves are on to send Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad out of the country anytime soon.
“Initially, Ershad was informed that he would be sent to Singapore. But he refused to go to Singapore. Now he may be sent to Malaysia,” a senior JP leader close to Ershad told The Daily Star yesterday, requesting anonymity.
A government agency has already collected the passports of Ershad, his son Eric Ershad and his two personal staff, JP sources said.
They added the government was trying to gain Ershad’s support for the January 5 election, even by “confining” him in the Combined Military Hospital.
Contacted yesterday, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said Ershad was not detained. “He was admitted to the hospital for treatment.”
Interestingly, a few hours before Ershad’s “admission” under Rab escort, he had sent a letter to the Election Commission, requesting it not to allocate his party’s electoral symbol, plough, to anyone, since his party had decided to boycott the polls.
JP sources alleged that ever since Ershad announced on December 3 quitting the race citing the lack of atmosphere for an inclusive election, the government has been pressing him in different ways to change his mind.
Law enforcers, on government instructions, yesterday foiled an effort by Ershad’s followers to bring out processions in the capital’s Banani and Kakrail, demanding his release. Police also charged batons to disperse the JP activists, they alleged.
Kazi Firoz Rashid, JP presidium member, criticised the law enforcers’ role, and said they were not allowed to hold a peaceful programme.
Protesting Ershad’s “detention,” two JP factions in Rangpur yesterday called a 24 and 48-hour hartal beginning this morning in Rangpur division.
The government plan to hold the January 5 election suffered a further blow yesterday, as a JP leader took the issue to the High Court, challenging the legality of 154 candidates being elected unopposed.
The HC may hear the petition on January 2, just two days before the election, said Hassan MS Azim, counsel for the petitioner, JP Vice-chairman Khandakar Abdus Salam.
Salam had filed nomination paper to contest the polls from a Gazipur constituency, but it was rejected.
In the petition, he sought the court’s directives on the Election Commission not to issue any notification declaring the 154 unopposed candidates elected as MPs.
Citing constitutional provisions, he stated in the petition that every lawmaker must be elected by the people through direct voting.
The chief election commissioner, secretary to the EC, cabinet secretary and law secretary are respondents to the petition.
Asked to comment on the issue, Inu said he welcomed the petition. “Now the legality of the election will be determined by the court.”
The legal challenge came amid the international community’s concern about the record number of candidates being elected without a single vote being cast.
Recently, a number of European Union envoys stationed in Dhaka told The Daily Star that they were concerned that the government was going to hold the election.
Diplomatic sources say the crucial question before them is how much representative the new government will be, given it will be formed through a one-sided and uncontested polls.
Meantime, US Ambassador in Dhaka Dan W Mozena yesterday met Finance Minister AMA Muhith to discuss the election process and recent violence, among other things.
“The United States is waiting for an official explanation from the Bangladesh government on the January 5 election,” Muhith quoted Mozena as saying in the meeting.
The government has allegedly forced Bobby Hajjaj, who had been keeping communications with Ershad and delivering his messages to the press for the past few days, to leave the country on Monday night.
“I was forced to leave the country,” Hajjaj told a staff of Jatiya Party Research and Strategy Wing over the phone from London last evening.
Contacted, the information minister refuted the allegation, saying Hajjaj was not such an important person that his presence would threaten the security of the country.
In another development, Ershad’s lawyer last night withdrew a legal notice that he had served earlier in the day on the government to immediately release Ershad.
Barrister Rafique-ul Huq, Ershad’s counsel, told The Daily Star citing Raushan Ershad last night that Ershad had not been detained. Therefore, the notice was withdrawn.
Earlier in the day, Rafique served the notice asking the government to release Ershad or produce him before the court to satisfy the court that Ershad was not being held illegally.