Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad has been unreachable for most of the party ranks for the last couple of days. He is staying in a house at Gulshan instead of his residence, President Park, in Baridhara.
He left the President Park on Friday and went to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka for “check-up”. He left the hospital on Sunday but did not return to his own residence, said a number of party leaders.
Only a few leaders, whom he wishes to meet or talk over the phone, know his whereabouts and have contact with him, said the party leaders.
“He went to the CMH on Friday and was released on Sunday. He went to a residence in Gulshan instead of the President Park,” Major (retd) Khaled Akhtar, a JP presidium member and private secretary of Ershad, told The Daily Star yesterday evening.
This led to intense speculation within the party as Ershad, known as unpredictable character in the political arena, has record of playing mysterious role like the current one.
“I think he is under pressure for selecting party candidates and sharing seats with the ruling party,” a JP lawmaker, who is also a minister of the Awami League-led government, told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.
Ershad’s hide-and-seek comes at a time when the seat-sharing between the ruling AL and his party still remains as a contentious issue.
The JP, the main opposition in the current parliament, in the last couple of days sent letters twice to the ruling AL to finalise the seat-sharing. But as of now, the issue remains unresolved.
Ershad demanded that the AL leave 100 out of 300 parliamentary constituencies for JP candidates to contest the polls under the banner of the grand alliance led by the ruling party, insiders said.
But the AL did not agree on this creating an impasse.
Ruhul Amin Hawlader, secretary general of JP, was supposed to meet Obaidul Quader, general secretary of the AL yesterday evening.
In the afternoon yesterday, Hawlader confirmed to The Daily Star about the meeting. In the evening, he said the meeting was postponed but did not explain the reason.
“We are facing pressure from party leaders and activists as we cannot tell them from which parliamentary constituencies our candidates will run for the election,” he said.
He said the party cannot clarify it as the ruling AL has yet to make it clear how many seats they will leave for JP leaders in the upcoming parliamentary election.
“We hope we will be able to reach an amicable solution over seat sharing through a meeting with the ruling party high-ups soon,” Hawlader said.
AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader on Sunday told newsmen that the issue of seat-sharing with the components of the grand alliance would be completed in a couple of days.
Besides, the JP secretary general said the party’s nomination seekers along with many of their supporters are still staying in Dhaka to know the party’s decision on selection of candidates.
“Therefore, they cannot start preparatory works for election to fight the opponents,” he said.
A senior JP leader said prospective candidates of both the ruling AL and the BNP-led alliance are taking preparations in full swing in their constituencies. “But we are facing uncertainty as we still don’t know how many seats the ruling party will leave for us.”
The delay in resolving the seat-sharing issue prompted the party to postpone its work for interviewing nomination seekers. It was originally scheduled for November 17.
The party will start interviewing nomination seekers today, said a press release of the JP yesterday. Hawlader confirmed that the date remains unchanged.
“The party chief may appear before the nomination seekers today,” a senior JP leader said.
The party sold 2,700 nomination forms among party’s nomination seekers in six days since November 11.
Asked if the party is negotiating with the BNP and Jatiya Oikyafront over seat-sharing, JP presidium member SM Foysal Chisty replied in the negative.
UNPREDICTABLE, AS ALWAYS
What Ershad is doing now is nothing new.
In 2006, when he was facing pressure from the then outgoing ruling BNP to join its alliance, he went into hiding. On December 18, 2006, he suddenly appeared at a Paltan Maidan rally organised by AL, and announced his decision to join the AL-led alliance.
Following his instructions from hiding on December 18 morning, JP leaders and workers joined the rally before he reached there. Senior JP leaders Kazi Zafar Ahmed, Ruhul Amin Hawlader and GM Quader were among others present on the dais.
Joining the rally, he said he and his party had been subject to constant threats and torture for speaking out against what he said was unbridled corruption of the BNP-led four-party alliance.
“I am getting threats that I would be sent to jail and come out as a mere corpse,” the former dictator told the rally. “But I am a soldier, I am not scared of death,” said Ershad.
“I’ve thrown off the shackles to express solidarity with the Awami League-led grand alliance. I’m here today free as a bird,” he said in an emphatic voice.
He claimed he had to get over several hurdles to get to the rally “at this crucial juncture”.
Ershad led his party to remain in the AL-led grand alliance to contest the 2008 parliamentary election which was delayed around two years due to the state of emergency declared amid political turmoil.
After seven years when another parliamentary election was in the offing, Ershad became the centre piece of a long-drawn drama for his flip-flops over joining the January 5 polls in 2014.
Announcing that the JP will not participate in the election, he had asked his party’s candidates to withdraw their nomination papers. The BNP-led alliance and some other opposition parties boycotted the polls.
Giving rise to questions and confusions, he was taken to the CMH from his Baridhara residence on December 12, 2013.
However, a section of JP leaders decided to join the polls. The party chairman was elected a lawmaker in the January 5 election in 2014 as he could not withdraw candidacy from Rangpur-3.
From the CMH, where he had been staying for unknown “illness”, Ershad directly went to the Bangabhaban to attend the oath-taking ceremony of the prime minister and ministers of the new government on January 12, 2014.
On the same day, he was appointed the special envoy of the prime minister with a status of a minister. Three of his party’s MPs were inducted into the council of ministers though the party was called the main opposition in parliament.
Talking to reporters at the Bangabhaban after the ceremony, Ershad said: “I’m quite well.”
He finally returned to the President Park from Bangabhaban with a new role.
In the wake of criticism against his party for being in the opposition and in the cabinet at the same time, Ershad on several occasions in recent years said he would ask the three party men to step down as ministers paving the way for JP to emerge as the real opposition.
But earlier this month, after talks with the AL-led 14-party alliance, JP chief said his party will participate in upcoming election under the grand alliance.