Like the previous round, this time also the Election Commission dialogue with eminent citizens saw participation of less than half of the invitees on Tuesday and those who took part emphasised an unbiased election-time government to spearhead the 12th parliamentary polls late next year.
"I feel the election-time government should have no interest in influencing the outcome of the polls," said Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and one of the 19 invitees to show up in the talks.
"If the polls-time government has that kind of interest, the Election Commission cannot function properly," he said.
Most of the eminent citizens also emphasised regaining the confidence of voters in the election process, recovering from the criticism over electronic voting machines (EVMs) and avoiding recurring mistakes committed by the previous commissions.
CPD's Distinguished Fellow Mustafizur Rahman, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumdar, Gonoshasthaya Kendra Trustee Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury and Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman also attended the dialogue.
Debapriya also called for ensuring voting rights of women, religious minorities, and those living in remote areas and said laws have to be enforced so that honest and deserving candidates win.
Suggesting that the commission bring back people's trust in the EC, he said it is a challenge for the commission. "There has to be an agreement from all regarding EVMs," he said.
The commission had invited 39 noted citizens to Tuesday's talks organised to prepare a roadmap for the forthcoming parliamentary election, utilising the outcome of the series of dialogue with stakeholders.
Iftekharuzzaman alleged that the commission has become a pro-government institution rather than being a state institution.
"We have no doubt about your [EC] ability. But you have to prove it. You have to work for the state, not the government. If you cannot do that, then resign," the TIB executive director said.
He said the election atmosphere depends on the polls-time government. Therefore, a non-partial government is a must.
The newly-formed EC embarked on the dialogue on 13 March, around two weeks after taking office. In the first round, they had invited 30 academics but only 13 of them turned up.
Professor Mustafizur Rahman called for ensuring a safe voting system and freedom of expression during and after the election.
Ali Imam Majumdar said the election system is currently in question. The last two national elections were not participatory. These have to be acknowledged.
"Voters have lost confidence. You have to take action so that the previous mistakes do not happen again," he added.
Columnist Mohiuddin Ahmad said those who do not belong to any party can hold a good election.
"The challenge is holding elections under a political government. Now the question is how you (the EC) will deal with that. Besides, it is necessary to know how to pull the strings of the political parties," he added.
He said the commission must prove beforehand that EVMs cannot be manipulated.
According to sources at the commission, it is to hold its third round of the dialogue with senior journalists on 29 March.
Mentioning that there is a crisis of confidence in the current EC, Gonoshasthaya Kendra Trustee Zafrullah Chowdhury said that it was due to the search committee.
This crisis of confidence was created for not publishing the list of names of ten people recommended by the committee to the president for their appointments as the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners, he added.
"Only healthy elections can establish our rights and democracy. Otherwise, it will not be possible to get out of the lawlessness that is going on," he said.
Social activist Khushi Kabir, Human Rights Activist Sanjib Drong, Dhaka University Professor Robaet Ferdous, former secretary Abdul Latif Mandal, writer and columnist Mohiuddin Ahmad, Professor Nazrul Islam, economist and former governor of the Bangladesh Bank Mohammed Farashuddin, former secretary Abu Alam Md Shahid Khan and Manusher Jonno Foundation Executive Director Shaheen Anam were also present at the dialogue.
They called for unity and coordination of the commission in overcoming the crisis of confidence of the voters in the elections.
Concluding the dialogue, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal said, "The success of the commission depends on holding the election in a free and fair manner. It will be considered successful if we can make it at least 50-60%."
He also assured that all proposals would be seriously considered.
At the end of the dialogue, the CEC spoke to journalists but did not respond to a question on such a low attendance at the talks.