In the recently held 11th Parliamentary election the AL-led grand alliance has attained a landslide victory while the BNP has accepted a mammoth defeat as they have managed to win in only eight constituencies. The result is very frustrating for the BNP as they have remained away from the power for the last 10 years with different allegations against their main leaders. Before the election, it was expected that retaining power through an electoral win would be a grim task as the party is travelling through the most difficult political path. Of course, there are valid reasons as the party leaders have remained busy in fighting legal battles for making Begum Zia free from imprisonment. In addition, most of the senior and local level leaders have been fighting legal battles to encounter cases on them. But, it was not expected that the party would make such a devastating result in the election. Under this circumstance, a pertinent question is what would be the future of the BNP?
Before analysing the future of the party it is imperative to make an analysis of why the party did so badly in the election. Although the party has rejected the result of the election on the ground of massive irregularities and rigging, their voices have not heard by the local and international actors. As a matter of fact, a number of factors have pushed the party into the black hole from where they could not come out. First, the conviction of the chairperson and co-chairperson in different cases, including graft case and 21 August Grenade attack on AL rally, before the election created a negative image among the voters towards the party. Moreover, the absence of Begum Khaleda Zia in the electoral field has made things very difficult for them to fight against a well-organised AL.The issue of nomination business during the election drew the attention of most of the voters. In most cases, the BNP central leadership failed to choose the right person in the right constituencies. The number of such incidents is not very few. We have learnt different stories from different media sources, where it was clearly evident that there were problems in the nomination process. The domination of Tarique Zia in the nomination process staying back in London was not taken well by the voters. Even a few influential BNP leaders did not contest the election which indicates that there were serious problems in the nomination process. Even, many aspirants carried out demonstrations with their supporters in front of the BNP office once they were denied nomination. Leakages of phone calls among different leaders before the election also influenced the voter negatively as those incidents indicated lack of coordination among the leaders. In addition to these factors, disqualification of a good number of BNP candidates to contest the election has also pushed them in the back seat.
The nomination of around 24 Jamaat candidates affected the election result negatively. In the last election around 22 per cent of the voters were young and first-timers who have a strong feeling towards the spirit of war of liberation. At the same time, they have abhorrence to the war criminals. By giving the nomination to the family members of the war criminals, the party in a way made their stand clear on the issue that they have a strong linkage with them. This has not only affected the BNP but also affected the credibility of Dr Kamal Hossain very negatively who expressed his commitment to maintaining distance from Jamaat during the early days of the formation of Oikya Front. Once the Jamaat candidate submitted their candidature from the list of BNP, it came into the broad light that he failed to keep his commitment. Thus, whatever momentum was created in favour of the Oikya Front nipped in the bird.
The party could not come up with a well thought out election manifestos. At some point in time, they mentioned that they would contest the election under the banner of the Oikya Front. Thus, they would not come with a separate electoral manifesto. In the manifesto of the Oikya Front, it was clearly spelt out that the front, if they manage to come to power, would continue the trial of war criminals. This was highly appreciated by the voters. All of a sudden, the BNP hurriedly came up with a very brief manifesto where they did not talk anything about the trial of war criminals which was not accepted positively by the voters. Another significant issue is that neither the Oikya Front nor the BNP could manage to portrait their Prime Minister candidate before the voters. In a democracy, it has become a practice that every party usually contests the election, highlighting someone as the prime ministerial candidate. These issues have seriously affected the party to score well in the election.
Now a pertinent question is what would be the destiny of the party? Honestly speaking, very tough days are waiting for the party ahead as there is hardly any hope that either Khaleda Zia or Tarique Zia would be able to get hold of the party leadership in the near future. In the absence of both the leaders, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is trying to run the party. But there is a leadership crisis within the party which has been evident through the leakage of telephone conversations among different leaders. Thus, the first challenge to Mirza Fakhrul will be to organise the party from the central to the local level. At present, the leaders and supporters are disorganised and de-motivated. Such a state of the organisation of the party is a great threat towards their existence.
The endeavour of the BNP and Oikya Front leaders to brand the election as manipulated and rigged would not be successful as the international communities have already accepted the election result. The BNP leadership should bear in mind that the AL remained in power for five years after the 2014 election which was highly criticised on different grounds. Thus, the party, after gaining landslide victory would not allow the BNP to create any vandalism in the country. Thus, they should concentrate on organising the party and invest their efforts in mobilising people so that they could do better in the next election.
The party should make their stand clear about the Jamaat and war criminals. Due to their double standard, they have failed to gain the support of many national and international actors. Of course, they have some sort of obligation as Pakistan would not continue to support them if they expurgate their relationship with Jamaat. But, it is the high time for the party to ascertain whose support they want more to get into power. Do they want Pakistani support or they want the support of the voters and other actors who could help them to return in the mainstream of politics? They should also uphold the spirit of War of Liberation and freedom fight. The AL government in the last ten years has managed to establish a political environment whose main basis is the philosophy of the War of Liberation and freedom fight. Thus, in the next five years, the situation would be more difficult for the BNP as people would not trust them on the ground that they have an alliance with Jamaat and war criminals.Finally, it is important for the BNP to figure out their strategies to persuade the voters. They will have to come with some new ideas instead of conventional political thinking. The strategy to criticise the government for the sake of criticism would not help them to emerge as a potent force in the Bangladesh politics. At the same time, all political parties, including the AL should learn a lesson from the BNP. They should bear in mind that a single faulty decision may ruin the political future of a party which has happened true for the BNP as a result of their decision to boycott the 2014 election. They have pushed them into a black hole of the political environment of Bangladesh. Thus, it is really difficult to predict what would happen in their destiny in the years ahead.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.