Awami League sets high bar
Resolving internal conflicts and picking the right candidates will be the Awami League’s key challenges, say party insiders
A cautious Awami League has set a high bar for aspirants seeking nominations to contest the upcoming general election.
While the ruling party wants its strongest available candidates to help fuel a drive for a third consecutive term in office, the scenario is different this time.
At the most recent polls in January 2014, the main opposition BNP staged a boycott over the government’s refusal to make way for a caretaker administration system to supervise the vote.
This helped Awami League secure an overwhelming victory, with more than half of its contestants elected to parliament unopposed.
The BNP now risks losing its registration with the Election Commission if it sits out the general election again.
With party chief Khaleda Zia only eight months into a five-year jail sentence for fraud, and her son, the acting BNP chairman Tarique Rahman, exiled in London, the opposition is reportedly planning to join forces with other like-minded parties ahead of the polls.
Awami League leaders and activists are brimming with confidence that they will win this election thanks to the party’s run of consecutive election victories.
A large number of aspiring candidates are eyeing nominations, hoping to ride on the Awami League’s popularity.
“Many aspirants believe that the BNP will not participate in the upcoming election, allowing Awami League candidates to win easily,” a Awami League joint general secretary, declining to be named, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“This is why a large number of young politicians, businessmen, and former bureaucrats are trying to get the nominations of the ruling party.”
Many of those standing in line for the Awami League, however, have little-to-no political background, while some have criminal records and others are not even well-known in their localities.
As such, BNP’s participation in this election will likely alter many of Awami League’s calculations.
The ruling party knows it will need popular and qualified candidates to defeat the opposition. The sheer number of candidates has already caused a rift in the party’s local units.
To choose the perfect candidate, the party has set out a number of conditions that must be met to get a nomination.
Sources say a candidate is required to be well-liked by voters, educated and honest, and devoted to the party and party ideologies.
They must also be an active party worker, a seasoned politician with no criminal history, and popular enough to win the polls.
The candidate must also maintain a clean personal image.
“Some aspirants believe that they can buy their nominations by donating large sums of money to the party fund,” the AL joint general secretary continued.
“The Awami League never sells nominations. One has to earn one through hard work and dedication to the party and the people.”
Senior leaders of the party say Awami League President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly hinted that popular candidates will receive nominations.
“The prime minister regularly inquires about the popularity of nomination-seekers,” Awami League Presidium Member Abdur Razzaque said. “Although the party has tended to pick incumbent MPs in the past, things will be different this time.”
Abdur Razzaque said the ruling party has been conducting surveys to determine the popularity of lawmakers and aspirants.
He said: “Awami League will nominate candidates based on popularity. Factors such as honesty, popularity, educational background, and interaction with grassroots leaders will be considered in the selection process.”
Awami League Joint-General Secretary Abdur Rahman said a large number of leaders have emerged in every constituency over the past 10 years.
“Many of them are eager to contest the election, triggering intra-party conflicts,” he said.
Resolving these internal conflicts and picking the right candidates will be the Awami League’s key challenges, say party insiders.
For his part, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader has told the media several times that the party would not select any candidate with a criminal record.
He said the party plans to nominate a number of “celebrities” for the 11th parliamentary election, which is expected to be held in December.
Iqbal Hossain Apu, an executive member of the party’s Central Working Committee and an aspirant for Shariatpur 1 constituency, said the upcoming national election will be “the toughest and most competitive” in Bangladesh’s history.
“There are fair chances that the Awami League will lose seats if it chooses wrong candidates. We are eyeing a third consecutive term in office, so only the eligible, popular, and qualified candidates will get party nods,” he added.