Zia`s birthday celebration to hit talks on Bangla poll reforms

The celebration of opposition leader Khaleda Zia`s birthday coinciding with the death anniversary of Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has triggered a controversy.

Dhaka: The celebration of opposition leader Khaleda Zia`s birthday coinciding with the death anniversary of Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has triggered a controversy that could affect crucial talks between the country`s two main political parties on electoral reforms.

"It is not possible for us to compromise with those who celebrate a `fake birthday` on the death anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman," ruling Awami League general secretary and Local Government Minister Syed Ashraful Islam said.

"Many things could be said under political consideration, but celebrating your birthday on the day we lost the Father of the Nation is not a political issue," Islam added.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Rahman, would never accept those who make "fun of the national mourning day by cutting cakes", he said.

Hasina too slammed her archrival in an emotion choked voice for celebrating a "fake birthday" on Thursday by cutting huge cakes, including one weighing 69 pounds to indicate she had turned 69.

Bangladesh observes National Mourning Day on August 15 to mark the 1975 assassination of Rahman, fondly called `Bangabandhu` or `Friend of Bengal`, and most of his family in a military putsch. Hasina and her younger sister survived as they were abroad at that time.

Awami League leaders questioned Zia`s decision to celebrate her birthday on August 15, saying the party has documents that list different days as her date of birth.

They said Zia`s marriage certificate mentions she was born on September 5, 1945, her first passport states the date of birth as August 19, 1946 while her registration for the matriculation or school final exams states she was born on August 9, 1944.

The birthday controversy began in 1991 when Zia first celebrated it on August 15 after assuming the office of premier and declared the date as her "official birthday".

Despite criticism from the Awami League, Zia`s BNP party went ahead with the birthday celebrations.

"Our leader had crossed 68, we wish her long life today and wish the nation will pray for that," BNP leader Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said at the celebrations at the party office here.

Without responding to the criticism, another senior BNP leader, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, said it was unlikely that the ruling and opposition parties would be able to forge consensus on electoral reforms.

"From the statements of the Prime Minister and other government officials, it seems that there is no chance of mutual understanding between the Awami League and BNP over the elections," said Alamgir.

Analysts believe the latest controversy could further strain relations between the two major parties against the backdrop of growing political uncertainties ahead of next year`s general election.

Hossain claimed the government was now trying to install a non-political "third force" as it could not return to power in a democratic way. He reiterated the BNP`s demand for restoration of the caretaker government system for holding polls.


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