First News
Volume:8, Number:05
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COVER STORY
THIS WEEK

Caught in the Crossroads

Prime minister and Awami League president Sheikh Hasina unveils the party manifesto and constitution at Ganabhaban on May 20, 2017

| Manik Chowdhury |

The political situation of the country looks critical today marked by uncertainty, anxiety and fear. Security crisis is deepening day by day with the incidents of a wide variety of crimes and violence including abduction, murder of children, repression of women, etc. Politics has turned into a system of disunity and division, a way of seeking revenge instead of materializing the hopes and aspirations of the people. The society has been divided over exercise of power, not idealism. Politics is generating fresh controversies among the people.

Against this backdrop, major political parties are boosting their organizing capacity and preparing for the next general elections.

Whither Awami League. The ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL), which led the country in the War of Independence, has completed its 68 years of existence on June 23 this year. Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led the party till his assassination in 1975, and his daughter Sheikh Hasina has been at the helm of the party for 38 years since 1981. Awami League is ruling the country for the last nine years under her leadership since 2009, after the earlier 5-year rule that lasted until 2001. During her rule, the Farakka Agreement, trial of Bangabandhu’s killers, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Treaty, and the trial of war criminals of 1971 have been completed, and the construction of Padma Bridge has been initiated with the country’s own fund.

Bangladesh has shown impressive economic growth, but the ruling party has failed to establish good governance. However, a survey, conducted by the US-based organization Research Development Centre (RDC) in collaboration with the news daily Independent in Bangladesh, shows 2.6 percent respondents expressed their negative attitude about Awami League, while the figure was 25.4 percent against BNP. In the survey, 72.3 percent participants had positive comments on prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who is also popular amongst 71 percent of young people.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – one of the two major political parties of the country – has been weakened by staying out of power for seven-and-a-half years. Its organizational condition is shaky and the leaders at the grassroots level are divided. Some Awami League leaders ridicule the BNP leaders asking them to save their party first before they think about launching a movement. Ironically, political analysts believe Awami League is also facing a similar situation or worse. Politics of this party would be narrowed down in future if its internal conflict continues and organizational crisis deteriorates. The leaders and workers of the party may face dire situation in future. When BNP was in power, its leaders thought they could not be dethroned, and claimed that Awami League was not going to come to power in 50 years. Eventually, BNP was ousted and Awami League came to power in 2009.

This is the process of democratic changeover. So the possibility of BNP’s regaining power cannot be ruled out. BNP was inattentive to its organizational capacity while in power. The same inattention is prevailing in Awami League now, the analysts observed.

Hat-trick win target

At an Awami League Central Working Committee meeting held at Ganabhaban on July 8, prime minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her hope to remain in power till 2021. “Of course, our aim is to celebrate the golden jubilee of the independence staying in power and to make the country a developed and prosperous one,” she said. She also wanted to celebrate the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman while her party is in power.

Awami League has begun to work for the hat-trick win through the general elections slated either in late 2018 or early 2019. The dedicated leaders at the district and upazila levels are getting proper treatment in the party while the parasites are being trimmed from the party. The ruling party has strengthened campaign for registering 20 million new party-members. MPs and ministers have been asked to resolve their conflicts with the local leaders and activists of the party. The committees at the district units will be formed at the earliest. Party policymakers said the first task to this end is to end infighting and uniting the leaders and activists.

Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader said, “We have begun sorting out BNP-Jamaat activists who intruded into Awami League and its front organizations.” He asked the party leaders and activists to improve their contacts with the people. Joint general secretary of the party, Abdur Rahman, said, “We will be working to strengthen the party by uniting leaders and activists in order to bring Awami League to power for the consecutive third term through people’s vote.”

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Sheikh Hasina PM and AL president

People are the owners of their votes, and they are free to cast their votes at their own will. The slogan “I shall cast my vote for whomever I like” was introduced by us. We always believe in elections. We want the flow of democracy to continue. BNP should not commit the mistake of withdrawing from election again. Rather we want it to compete in the election and let the people of this county decide who should come to power. Take part in elections and shun the politics of violence. Bangladesh is not passing bad days. Rather, those who misappropriated orphans’ funds, and are afraid to face trial for that, and those who have lost the case despite submitting more than 150 writs, are passing bad days. The BNP leaders feel uneasy when people feel good. They feel good when they kill people and destroy national assets. BNP looted people’s money and unleashed corruption establishing Hawa Bhaban while in power. They tried to take my life several times. But I have tried to forget the incidents for the sake of the country, people and politics. BNP knows nothing but killing and destruction. People will not forget how BNP has repressed them. BNP is a militant and terrorist organization and it has committed the heinous crime of burning people to death. Its character is to be exposed. Militants and terrorists will get shelter nowhere in the country. BNP and Jamaat have plundered aid money, and wanted to sustain poverty in the country in order to get more foreign aid. On the contrary, Awami League’s policy is to help the nation stand on its feet, and not to beg from others. We shall live with dignity.

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Begum Khaleda Zia BNP chairperson and former

There will be no election under Sheikh Hasina. We will not let that happen. Hasina must be removed, she has to step down from power. Elections will be held under a neutral government when every voter will get the opportunity to exercise his or her own voting power. InShaAllah, such an election will be held in Bangladesh. Hasina goes to places to inaugurate projects, and everywhere she asks people to vote for ‘boat’. She does not understand that the ‘boat’ has sunk already. This boat has sunk, you cannot salvage the boat even after deploying thousands of rescuers. Another parliamentary election is coming. I want to tell my countrymen that they have seen the face of Awami League in the past nine years. If they want to get rid of this government, they will have to side with democracy, independence, sovereignty, peace, and development. BNP and its allies are that political force, which has patriotism in their hearts and are in touch with the people. InShaAllah, BNP and its 20-party alliance will win the next election and implement what we have pledged in Vision 2030.

Awami League is in trouble when in power

Awami League apparently is passing its best time ever. The party has been in power for eight years in two straight terms winning brute majority in the elections.

The killers of Bangabandhu have been tried and executed. Trial for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War has been going on, and many of the leading criminals have been convicted and executed. GDP growth stands at near 7 percent, per capita income has multiplied three times, employment has increased, women empowerment and women’s education have expanded, success in curbing militancy has been lauded internationally and construction of Padma Bridge has been undertaken. No doubt the Awami League government is passing through a good patch, but that may not be true for the party, said political observers. Party’s chain of command is so weak that its president Sheikh Hasina herself has to intervene from time to time to resolve internecine conflicts at the grassroots level. Rebel candidates emerged during local government elections as well as parliamentary elections. The unholy competition of strengthening cliques by hiring hybrid politicians has cornered the dedicated leaders and activists in the organization. Ministers and parliament members have alienated the grassroots-level leaders and workers. Country’s development and Sheikh Hasina’s image may not be enough to help the party cross the election hurdles in future. Because Awami League has the challenge of facing BNP combined with anti-liberation forces. Some foreign forces, which could not implement their agenda during the Awami League rule, are also likely to oppose the party. Its ally Jatiya Party also might contest independently in the next election, opposing rather supporting it in future elections. Emergence of some traitors from within the party is also not unlikely in the future course of politics.

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HM Ershad JP chairman and former president

The country is not in a good condition now. Its people want to overcome this situation. When we ran the country, people’s life was much better than now. So, we want to form the government again and keep people in peace. Jatiya Party is now in a much better condition than anytime in the past. If we work hard, Jatiya Party can be as strong as Awami League, and can go to power. It cannot be denied that Awami League is a strong party, and it has a strong workforce. We also can reach their stature through our efforts. If we can build up a strong army of activists, it is not impossible for us to go to power. A party needs solid organization and dedicated activists to ensure that a voter can their votes freely. We participated in the Sunderganj by-poll a few days ago, but we could not reach and protect every polling station due to shortage of workers.

Dhaka Awami League in disarray

Despite the valiant legacy of the ruling party’s Dhaka city unit, the organizing condition of the two units (north and south) is not satisfactory. The units look vulnerable only oneand- a-half years prior to the next general election. The thana and ward committees of Dhaka city Awami League units are yet to be finalized four years after the council.. In April 2016, the Dhaka City South and North committees were announced. Names of the presidents and the general secretaries of 50 thana committees and 103 ward committees were also announced. Party’s general secretary Oabidul Quader on May 31 asked the party men to complete the full committees of the ward and thana units of the city, but the order has not been carried out until the time of writing this report.

The Dhaka city (north and south) units of Shwechchhasebak League could neither hold any conference of the units nor announce any thana committee in last 11 years. Elections to the two Dhaka city units were held on May 31, 2006. Several thana units of the city Shwechchhasebak League are running under the convener committees while some other thana committees have been continuing for 10 years. Bangladesh Mahila Awami League held its council on March 4, Juba Mahila League on March 11, and Tanti League held its council on March 19. Awami League’s associate organization Mahila Awami League held its council after a long gap of 14 years. Safia Khatun was elected the new chief of the organization, while Mahmuda Begum was made general secretary. Mohammad Shawkat Ali was elected new president and Khagendra Chandra Debnath general secretary of Tanti League in the council.

Unbridled conflicts at the grassroots level

Ruling party leaders and activists are killing fellow party men clashing over personal gains, control in respective constituencies, and grabbing of party posts.

According to a central committee report, the internal conflicts are turning to clashes everyday sporadically in the country. The report said the internal conflict and clashes cannot be contained despite stern warnings from the party high command. Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader discussed the issue with several district level leaders and parliament members, and he will continue to meet the leaders of other districts to stop infightings. An Ain O Shalish Kendra report on political killings of last three years shows 83 Awami League activists, out of total 177 victims, were killed in political clashes in 2016. In 2015, the number was 33 out of 153 total victims, and 34 ruling party activists were killed in 2014 when 147 people were killed in political clashes. The Awami League leaders believe that only the prime minister’s personal intervention can change the situation. They partly blame intruders from BNP and Jamaat for the unrest. It is alleged that about 30,000 BNP-Jamaat activists infiltrated into ranks of Awami League, Juba League and Chhatra League in last four years.

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Obaidul Quader AL general secretary, and road transport and bridges minister

If Awami League stays united, it will not be defeated in the next parliamentary election. If the party members do not get united, the party will concede loss more pathetically that it did in 2001. Incidents like August 21 might happen again if BNP and its allies return to power. Unprecedented level of killing and looting will come back. Remember, the main enemy of BNP is not Awami League, but Sheikh Hasina. I want to say it clearly that no conspiracy against the Hasina government will be successful if our party remains united. New membership registration and membership renewal program of the party have begun. Those who are bad, and do not believe in our spirit will not be included during the renewal. If talented minds stay away from politics, then the mediocre people will run the country, and incompetent people will become lawmakers and ministers. If people with integrity do not come forward, the political podium will be occupied by characterless people.

Whither BNP

After the murder of former president Ziaur Rahman, the question rose whether the BNP could sustain itself or not. However, the then housewife-turned-politician Begum Khaleda Zia faced that situation successfully. But for the last decade, BNP leadership has repeatedly failed to show strength in the face of critical challenges.

But for the last decade, BNP leadership has repeatedly failed to show strength in the face of critical challenges. The second most powerful leader of the party has been forced to live in exile. Political observers said that the BNP leaders are now doing part-time politics which is not helping their party to overcome the crisis. Although the BNP’s decision of boycotting election under Hossain Mohammad Ershad proved right in the historical context, political analysts believe Khaleda Zia and her party are now paying dearly for the blunder of not participating in the parliamentary election on January 5, 2014. Thousands of BNP leaders and activists have been sued and jailed for participating in anti-election movement and subsequent violence. Many of them have become victims of abduction, murder and crossfire. All of these are still going on.

A party source said BNP may launch fresh movement soon, but many party leaders are doubtful about its success. They think the party workers would fall under pressure should the movement fail again, forcing them to go into hiding and thus isolate themselves from the upcoming parliamentary elections. The leaders rather suggest strengthening of ties with international actors. Their hope is that the government will hold fair election under the international pressure, provided India remained neutral. It is believed that a certain group in the party is keeping contact with the political leaders of India as India is a significant factor in Bangladesh politics. It is also believed that the Indian bureaucracy is not favorable to the idea of supporting BNP.

BNP is also likely to face challenge in fielding candidates, though BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir assured of having nine hundred aspirants for party nominations. The reformist leaders, who were sidelined after the 1/11 regime, have been recalled. Nonetheless, setting three hundred strong candidates for the parliament elections would be tough for BNP.

The party leaders are also worried over the trials in progress against Khaleda Zia, two of which are in final stage. If any of the verdicts goes against Khaleda, she could be declared ineligible for the election, leaving party in a leadership crisis. However, BNP previously experienced combined leadership when Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman both were in jail. Reformist Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan fully cooperated with the then secretary general Khandaker Delwar Hossain. Today’s BNP also have to take resort to combined leadership if such situation arises again. One possible alternative is to appoint Tarique Rahman’s wife Zobaida Rahman as the party chairperson. But so far she has shown her reluctance to enter politics. The Islamist parties are deserting the BNP-led 20-party alliance one after another. Islami Oikya Jote left the alliance on January 8 without citing any reason and although it has not joined another alliance. Concerned sources said the Oikya Jote leaders were sued in multiple cases after the Motijheel Shapla Square incident of May 5, 2013. It is believed that Oikyo Jote left the BNP-led alliance on the government assurance of withdrawing the cases against its leaders and workers.

Vision cannot stop infighting

The BNP leaders-activists were stimulated after the recent party announcement of ‘Vision 2030’ with the dream of building a ‘Rainbow Nation’. But the grassroots activists are annoyed as the local committees were selected by the central leaders without consulting them. However, the central leaders took the annoyance as a part of natural political response from the local activists, not as a serious problem. Joint secretary general Mujibur Rahman Sarwar said, “BNP will be strong at grassroots level if we could hold council sessions locally where activists could express their opinion. But it was not possible for the absence of an enabling political environment in the country.”

Party sources said committees of 50 organizing districts, out of 75, have been announced till date. Among them, councils or conferences were held in 10-12 districts, and the rest of the committees were selected by the high command. So, the process of revamping the party failed to resolve internecine conflicts, which are expanding instead of shrinking. In the meantime, Khaleda Zia announced the ‘Vision 2030’ which inspired the activists to some extent, but could not check internal rivalries amongst them. Committees for 50 organizing districts, including Joypurhat, Bandarban, Khagrachhari, Satkhira, Khulna Narayanganj, Narayanganj City, Noakhali, Meherpur, Chittagong Ciy, Tangail, Rangpur and Gazipur were announced partially. BNP’s councils or workers conferences have been held in 12 districts, including Sylhet, Kishoreganj, Noakhali, Jamalpur, Dinajpur, Jhenaidah, Jhalakathi. Gazipur district BNP unit general secretary Kazi Sayedul Alam Babu said, “There could be a bit of conflict in a big party like BNP, it is nothing wrong.”

Dedicated but undervalued

M Anwarul Azim, a retired army colonel, resigned from the party on June 8. He allegedly was not treated fairly by BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia. The committees of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal and Juba Dal in his constituency were announced without his knowledge. Anwarul Azim said, “I informed the high command of the matter. I met Madam twice over the issue, but she did not respond properly.”

Like him, former BNP vice-president Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury also resigned in 2015. He did not blame the party chief before his resignation, but political observers could assume that he resigned because he was not involved by Khaleda Zia in party’s diplomatic engagements after his release from jail. Besides, former deputy prime minister Shah Moazzem Hossain and former minister Abdullah Al Noman claimed that they too were victims of unfair treatment. DUCSU leader Nazimuddin Alam also did not get any post in the party during the latest reshuffle. BNP was created in the cantonment 38 years ago, and it still struggles to distinguish between politicians, bureaucrats, and army officers. It is also said that many other leaders in BNP were not properly evaluated by the chief, but they have neither criticized Khaleda Zia nor left the party. They rather chose to wait for the future considerations of her good office.

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K.M. Nurul Huda Chief election commissioner

An election cannot be fair without the help of all quarters. The election commission is hopeful of conducting the election properly with the support of law enforcers and political parties. This is not the final document of election roadmap. The EC officials will take more pragmatic steps for a fair and neutral election in the contexts of time and reality. The announced roadmap can be changed if necessary. The EC is fully confident of holding a fair national election. The existing law is adequate for a neutral election. The EC has pointed out seven tasks in a work plan for holding the elections in time. They are: (1) Review and reform of legal structures, (2) take suggestions on the work plan, (3) complete fresh demarcation of parliamentary constituencies, (4) complete distribution of national ID, (5) set up polling centers, (6) register new political parties and audit of registered parties, and (7) adopt a program to increase the capability of all concerned with the election.

Energizing the grassroots level

BNP is taking various initiatives to energize its grassroots activists before the upcoming parliamentary elections. Leaders are making all-out efforts to register at least twenty million new members for the party, ten million more than the target set by the party chief Khaleda Zia.

The program would inject enthusiasm into the party rank and file. Secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, “BNP is much stronger than it was in the past despite facing so many adversities. The party will be energized through the membership drive.” The party central office is monitoring the membership drive. Membership forms are being sold from the central office. Existing members are renewing their membership alongside fresh enrolment. The secretary general, senior joint secretary general Ruhjul Kabir Rizvi, assistant office secretary Taiful Islam Tipu, Munir Hossain and Belal Ahmed are supervising the program.

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