Ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL) considers the mammoth tour of chairperson of its rival BNP – Khaleda Zia – to Rohingya refugee camps a show of its political strength ahead of the next general elections.
Talking to Prothom Alo, several AL leaders said the party could not sense from beforehand that Khaleda would embark on such a massive visit to Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar immediately after her return from the United Kingdom.
Against this backdrop, the AL has expedited its preparations for the next general elections slated for late 2018. Although the party started its election preparations earlier, it was not gaining momentum.
The party thinks it is now time to give its election preparations a boost.
Party insiders said Khaleda’s visit has given the party a shake and it has now expedited its preparations.
They said the target of the party has now been winning the elections to six city corporations – Rangpur, Rajshahi, Barisal, Khulna, Sylhet and Gazipur.
AL leaders said they think the BNP has taken to the streets hastily, capitalising on the government preoccupation over several emerging issues like the Rohginya refugee crisis and the crisis of 16th amendment annulment verdict.
The government as well as the AL is now trying to determine the next course of action of its principal rival in the politics, BNP.
“BNP may speak differently, but it will for sure take part in the next polls,” AL’s presidium member Abdur Razzak told Prothom Alo.
He went on saying, “And that’s why, Khaleda shortly after her return from London tried to show the party’s strength in the name of distributing relief among Rohingya refugees.”
He said the AL is also on the ground.
When contacted, BNP standing committee member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury said there is no scope for doing politics centring on the Rohingya crisis. “It’s normal that there will be a huge gathering of people wherever BNP chairperson would go.”
He said this is also natural that a kind of election atmosphere would prevail among the local party activists.
“The main question is whether the people will be able to exercise their franchise freely. As long as this issue is not settled, the BNP will continue its democratic effort seeking a solution to the matter.”
Recalling various allegations raised by AL leaders on Khaleda’s London visit, Khosru said the AL leaders had said many things like “Khaleda would never return, BNP’s backbone has broken, BNP’s street agitation is now on the bank of Thames, and so forth”.
An AL leader seeking anonymity told Prothom Alo, “Now it seems that Khaleda, during her three-month stay in London, chalked out various strategies.”
Prothom Alo talked to four central AL leaders about Khaleda’s Rohingya visit. They said AL and BNP lead two major political alliances of the country and the activities of the smaller political parties largely depend on the actions of these two big parties.
They said small opposition parties will be active on the ground once the BNP takes to streets as a kind of election atmosphere has started brewing up in the country’s political arena following election commission’s dialogue with its stakeholders.
The AL leaders said various types of suggestions and pressures might be coming in from the international community to make the next polls free and fair and in this context Khaleda began her election preparations through her Rohingya mission.
AL presidium member Muhammad Faruq Khan alleged that the primary goal of Khaleda’s Cox’s Bazar tour was not distributing succour, it was rather making her presence felt.
Ruling AL begun its election preparations much earlier – in fact since its national council session held in October last year.
The ruling party organised several conferences at divisional and district level over the last one year. AL president Sheikh Hasina, also the prime minister, paid visits to different districts and sought votes in favour of party’s election symbol, the boat.
Party insiders said party’s election preparations faced a setback in the wake of emergence of several crises like debate over 16th amendment annulment verdict, floods, and influx of Rohingyas.
Meanwhile, the party has started preparing for six city corporation elections. Rangpur city corporation elections will be held next December and elections to Gazipur, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Sylhet will be held before the next general elections next year.
Party insiders said the party has tentatively fixed its candidates for the six city corporations and they were asked to work to that end.
AL sources said the party chief, Sheikh Hasina, has engaged various agencies to conduct surveys to pick suitable candidates for the next general elections in every three months.
Grassroots party leaders have been instructed to prepare for the election, keeping in view that party’s arch enemy BNP would join the polls, said the party insiders.
Source: Prothom Alo