It appears the mayoral by-polls to the DNCC have become uncertain following yesterday's High Court stay order. But the legal complexity can be removed and the LGRD ministry holds the key.
Newly added wards, the root cause for the polls process to grind to a halt, could be excluded from the Dhaka North City Corporation for the time being so that the elections could be held.
This will not be something new.
Sixteen years ago, the LGRD ministry swiftly removed all legal complexities over redrawn boundaries of three city corporations, including Dhaka, clearing the way for the polls.
The same ministry in 1998 increased the number of wards in Dhaka, Rajshahi and Khulna city corporations. In September 1998, the Election Commission redrew the boundaries of the wards issuing a gazette notification and moved for holding the polls.
But it faced legal hurdles. At least 10 writ petitions were filed challenging the new boundaries, five of the petitions were filed in Dhaka.
In response to those petitions, the HC stayed all work related to the elections and the stay order was extended several times. As a result, the polls to the three city corporations could not be held on time.
The first elections in the three corporations were held in January 1994 when the BNP was in power. Fresh elections were supposed to be held in 1999 when the Awami League was in power.
Assuming office on October 10, 2001, the BNP moved to hold the polls to the Dhaka City Corporation quickly, to unseat the then DCC mayor who was an AL leader.
It scrapped the LGRD ministry's circulars on redrawn boundaries of the wards to pave the way for the polls. Elections to Rajshahi and Khulna were also held along with the DCC on April 25, 2002.
After 16 years, the LGRD ministry and the EC are facing almost the same situation.
The ministry in July last year expanded boundaries of Dhaka North City Corporation and Dhaka South City Corporation by forming 36 wards with 16 union councils adjacent to the two corporations.
In this process, the number of wards in the DNCC increased to 54 from 36.
There was no move to hold the polls in those new wards. But the sudden death of Mayor Annisul Huq changed the situation.
The EC last week announced the schedule of the polls to fill the vacant mayor post and simultaneously declared elections for councillors in the 36 wards newly added to the two corporations.
But the legality of the polls schedule was challenged by two chairmen of union parishads, which have been included in the DNCC area.
In response, a High Court bench yesterday stayed for three months the by-election to the DNCC. It was scheduled to be held on February 26.
This development led the EC to suspend all work related to the polls.
Local government expert, Tofail Ahmed blamed the LGRD ministry and the EC for the situation. He said the EC announced the polls schedule keeping many legal loopholes.
New wards were included in the city corporation in the middle of last year. But the voter list is yet to be finalised. There were problems with boundary demarcations," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Tofail said union parishad chairmen were elected for five years and their tenure would expire on 2021. The LGRD ministry made no decision regarding them, he said, adding, "So, it was predicted that the election would be stayed.
EC acting secretary Helaluddin Ahmed seemed to be putting the blame on the LGRD ministry.
After being requested by the LGRD ministry, we made preparation for holding the polls. We found no legal complexities," he told reporters yesterday.
LGRD Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, however, held the EC responsible for the situation. He said his ministry's job was to declare the mayor post vacant after the death of Annisul. The EC is responsible for preparing the voter list and redrawing the boundaries of the wards, he said talking to reporters at his office at the secretariat.
He said he feels the necessity of electing a mayor as it is not possible to run a large city corporation without a mayor. He said the ministry would do whatever is necessary for holding the by-polls.
A major difference between the situation 16 years ago and now is that there is no mayor for the DNCC. Back then, the three mayors carried out the responsibilities until their successors were elected.
If the LGRD ministry considered the mayoral polls urgent, it might follow previous instances to clear the way for the election. For this, the circular, through which 18 new wards were added to the DNCC, has to be scrapped, making the writ petitions to lose effect.
Excluding the newly added wards would also get rid of another legal complexity the DNCC is facing. According to the law, at least 75 percent councillors (39, if the new wards are included) are need to form the corporation. The DNCC currently has 36 councillors.
Now, all depends on the LGRD ministry.