The election of the 11th Parliament has just concluded. The Grand Alliance, led by the Awami League (AL), won it with a spectacular majority. On the other hand, the Okkiyo Front consisting mainly of the Gono Forum and the BNP (including other political parties like Jamaat) could only win 8 parliamentary seats. Here, it needs to be mentioned that the Jamaat earlier lost its registration as a political party, but joined and contested elections with the BNP’s election symbol, ‘Sheaf of Paddy.’ Out of those 8 seats, BNPs tally is only 6 and the other 2 were won by Gono Forum candidates. As the majority party in Parliament, the Awami League has already formed the government. The Jatiyo Party, the second largest party in Parliament, by tradition, would lead the opposition in Parliament. Initially the JP decided also to be part of the government by joining the cabinet and at the same time also play the role of the opposition party. In fact, in the 10th Parliament the JP played a similar role. They became part of the government and at the same time, were the opposition party. This arrangement appeared to be quite peculiar, and it, for obvious reasons, did not allow the JP to play an effective role as the opposition in the parliament. After the election of the 11th Parliament, the JP was initially inclined to continue with the earlier arrangement of the 10th Parliament - being part of the government and also the opposition in Parliament simultaneously. However, later, the JP changed its decision and wanted to play only the role of opposition and not becoming a part of the government by becoming ministers in the cabinet. Here, it may be noted that the BNP boycotted the election of the 10th parliament, and hence it did not have any representation in the then Parliament. In fact, this provided the JP an opportunity to act as the opposition in the parliament. But, they opted to join the government and also become the opposition in Parliament, a quite contradictory role in the parliamentary form of government. For this reason, the JP also failed to a great extent in gaining the people’s respect and confidence as opposition in the parliament in the real sense of the term. However, this time it has abandoned its earlier practice and made their intention clear to act as the real opposition in parliament. Its parliamentary party leader, Ershad, formally wrote a letter in this regard to the Speaker of the House. Accordingly, an official directive has been issued recognising the JP as the leading opposition and its leaders Ershad and G.M. Kader as Leader and Deputy Leader respectively of the Opposition in the Jatiyo Sangsad or Parliament.
This new reality poses both challenges and opportunities for the Jatiyo Party in the coming years. In theory, the opposition in parliament refers to the largest political party in the Parliament that is not part of the government. The leader of this party is called the “Leader of the Opposition.” The primary role of the opposition is to question and scrutinize the work of the government. The above defining and guiding principle for recognising a political party as the opposition in Parliament also clarifies what role it is expected to play in politics, and more particularly in the Parliament. Some of these roles and functions include interest aggregation that means articulation and/or projection of certain preferences, values and ideologies into the policy and lawmaking process (e.g. in Parliament) and in the budgeting process; promoting responsible and informed debate that will push democratic discussion to a higher level of political development; maintaining relationship with the citizens and establishing the relevance of politics, particularly to the excluded and the marginalised; holding the government accountable for its lapses and failures and more importantly, present a viable alternative to the incumbent government by designing alternative ideas, principles and policies for the country.
In the light of the above, now the onus is on the JP to perform as an opposition party both inside as well as outside of the Parliament. This poses a real challenge for the JP. As mentioned earlier, since the JP was the opposition in the 10th parliament and also became a part of the cabinet, for obvious reasons, it could not play its due role as a true party in opposition. As such, it is presumed that it lacks proper experience of playing the role of a true opposition party. In this situation, the JP needs commitment and dedication to play its designed role. The current political scenario also offers opportunities for the JP. The BNP is in disarray and still not very sure about joining the 11th Parliament as its elected members have not yet taken oaths as members of the Parliament. Meanwhile, the BNP, along with the Oikkyo Front, have declared that they are not going to join the 11th Parliament. However, whatever the decision of the Okkiyo Front and the BNP may be, in the current Parliament, the JP will be the leading opposition party because it has won a higher number of seats than any other party. But it not yet quite clear how far the JP will be able to play its role as the true opposition party. If it can play its opposition card properly, the JP might be able to increase its popular base by making inroads to the BNP’s support base. This will also offer the JP an opportunity to develop into something more than a regional political party, and eventually assume a national character. At the same time, many of the BNP’s supporters are looking for an alternative political platform to pursue their different political goals. The BNP has already been out of power for the last 12 years or so and, in all likelihood, it is going to continue to be so for another five years or till the end of the tenure of the present Parliament. Changing political affiliation of the BNP’s leaders and supporters will not be a new phenomenon. Here, it needs to be mentioned that both the BNP and the JP as political parties were formed by autocratic rulers by alluring the political elements of other existing political parties. These political elements were heterogeneous in nature as they belonged to parties known for their leaning either to the extreme right or the extreme left of the political spectrum. It is perceived that if these elements see any flicker of hope in the JP, they may switch over their allegiance to it. At the same time, currently the BNP lacks leadership as its chairperson and the acting chairperson cannot perform their designated roles because of convictions for various offences by the court. It has been seen in the past that with time political parties without effective leadership tend to lose their popular support base and become ineffective entities. These political realities could be turned into opportunities with the right kind of political leadership by the JP. But there are two important factors that may constrain the JP to take advantage of the existing situation. One is weak and indecisive leadership and the other is the culture of opportunism and “easy life” that pervade in the ranks and files of the JP. Here, it also needs to be remembered that the JP was also formed by alluring political elements across political parties with different kinds of opportunities associated with the seat of power.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is a columnist and Professor, Department of
Public Administration, University of Dhaka and
Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh.