AL not politically prepared, opposition in the making
The government and the election commission have completed their clerical preparations for holding the 11th parliamentary polls but not taken concrete decision on politically sensitive issues of army deployment and use of electronic voting machine (EVM).
On the political front, the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL) has not yet finalised its electoral allies while the opposition is still undergoing a process of making and remaking alliances to fight the ruling camp before and during the elections due later this year.
Stakeholders say the political alignments, currently being negotiated by the AL and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, may take clear shape by the middle of November, especially once the polls schedule is announced.
Relevant organisations have been manned with persons as per choice of the AL government for managing the elections, alongside steps such as enactment of the digital security act, sources in the administration and the ruling party said.
Still, the parties outside of the 14-party alliance and HM Ershad’s Jatiya Party (JaPa) as an ally, which are willing to join the AL alliance, want to take some time. The JaPa are also being watched by the rulers so that its intimacy with the AL camp remains intact.
In the opposition camp, three parties split into six in four days and there are rumours of defection by three more parties in the BNP-led 20-party alliance.
The latest case is splitting of Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh led by former president Badruddoza Chowdhury that refrained from joining the newly floated opposition coalition of National Unity Front, led by noted jurist Kamal Hossain and supported by the BNP.
Minor parties’ joining of a greater alliance or their desertion hardly bears any weight in politics of counting potential votes but, political observers say, such fight to make or break an alliance has psychological impact before the electoral battle.
Thus, the ruling AL is maintaining a policy of ‘wait and see’ before finalising the electoral coalition and even formation of the election-time government, though that is not any constitutional obligation at present.
Claiming that the AL and its 14-party alliance are ready for the election, AL presidium member and alliance spokesperson Mohammad Nasim said they would include more parties into the coalition, keeping a close watch on the opposition’s moves.
“When the poll-time government is to be formed and what its size it is to be — is a matter to be dealt with by the prime minister [and AL president Sheikh Hasina]. The prime minister didn’t convey any decision to us,” he added.
However, two key decisions relating to use of EVM, an apparent choice of the ruling camp, and deployment of army personnel, as demanded by the opposition, are pending with the election commission.
An election commissioner, Mahbub Talukder, who boycotted the commission’s meeting in protest against suppression of dissent there, brought forth the issue of participatory election as a possible agenda of the EC, ignored by others including the chief election commissioner, however.
“So far, the election commission has done routine work which is not very difficult. It does not seem that it has dealt with issues of EVM and army deployment,” former election commissioner Sakhawat Hossain, adding that unless politically sensitive issues are resolved in a transparent manner, the political parties would have questions about the role of the EC.
In the parties and alliances outside of the government, polarisation is yet to be complete.
Days after the BNP joined the National Unity Front, two parties of the BNP alliance — Bangladesh NAP and NDP — left it.
Their departure, observers believe, was made to balance the engagement of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal of ASM Abdur Rab and Nagorik Oikya of Mahmudur Rahman Manna with the Kamal-led Unity Front, virtually leaving B Chowdhury’s United Front.
Both the NAP and the NDP later got divided with each of their factions either joining Chowdhury’s Front or staying with the BNP alliance. His BDB, too, is now divided as a committee has been formed with professor Nurul Amin Bepari as president.
BNP standing committee member Nazrul Islam Khan downplayed such splitting, saying that the BDB was formed with a small faction of the BNP. “It’s difficult to understand why this making or remaking of parties (and alliance) is taking place,” he said.
There are speculations about Oli Ahmed-led Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Bangladesh Kalyan Party of former major general Syed Muhammad Ibrahim and Jamiate Ulamaye Islam of Mufti Wakkas — all alliance of the BNP-led 20-party alliance. LDP leadership may be offered cabinet portfolio in the poll-time government, highly placed sources said.
Top leaders of all three parties denied any wrongdoing, terming such speculations as rumours.
The BNP leaders, too, are in constant touch with these parties address any grievances.
“It’s natural that there will be efforts to break an alliance and repair another. The government will presumably do this and we never know who would leave which alliance and join which one. An uncertain situation is prevailing for sure,” said Emajuddin Ahamed, a political scientist and former vice chancellor of Dhaka University.
He, however, predicted that such process of making, breaking and remaking alliance will continue for another two weeks or so.