The Election Commission has pushed back the Dhaka city polls by two days after clamours for it to be rescheduled as it coincided with the Hindu festival of Saraswati Puja.
Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda told the media that voting in the elections will be held on Feb 1 instead of Jan 30. His announcement came on Saturday (Jan 18) after an emergency meeting of the commission.
The new date, however, coincided with the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and equivalent exams, but barely minutes before the CEC's announcement the education ministry said that the school-leaving exams will start from Feb 3 instead of the previously announced Feb 1.
A "complex situation emerged" over the voting day, Huda said before adding: "According to the calendar, the puja was on Jan 29 and we went for the Jan 30. And you all are aware of what happened next."
The new date was fixed after speaking with Education Minister Dipu Moni, he said. "We fixed Feb 1 after she agreed to push back the exams to Feb 3."
The commission fixed Jan 30 for the election, which was met with opposition from the Puja Udjapon Parishad and the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Unity Council as the voting day overlapped with Saraswati Puja, slated for Jan 29 and 30 in the Bangladesh calendar.
The Dhaka University Central Students’ Union or DUCSU has also urged the commission to reschedule the vote but the calls went unheeded. A lawyer later moved the High Court seeking a stay on the polls but the court turned down the petition.
A group of Dhaka University students went on hunger strike demanding a change in the date while a platform of Hindus in Bangladesh also announced that they will boycott the elections if it is held on the day of the puja.
Mayoral candidates welcomed the Commission's decision to reschedule the voting.
According to Awami League's Dhaka North candidate Atiqul Islam, a "misunderstanding with Hindus" has ended.
"It would have been unfortunate if everyone couldn't join the festival," he told Bangla Tribune before adding that people of all religions celebrate each other's festival together in non-communal Bangladesh.
Ishraq Hossain, who is contesting for the Dhaka South mayor's office with the BNP's ticket, said that the Commission should have considered the Saraswati Puja before announcing the schedule.
"Though it's late, but they have pushed it back ... I hope in future the Election Commission would keep in mind these issues," he told Bangla Tribune.
The reschedule will not affect his campaign, Ishraq said before adding he, too, had called for deferring the election.
Any reaction from BNP's North City mayor candidate Tabith Awal is yet to come. His campaign said the media will be briefed "officially" later.