Bangladesh Awami League under the leadership of Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina has been in state power for three consecutive terms since 2009. Previously after a lapse of twenty one years following the killing of Bangabandhu with his entire family on 15 August 1975 the successive governments including the two military rulers, Zia and Ershad made every effort so that Awami League never returns to power. Zia even went to the extent of unofficially banning uttering the name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in public or even chanting Awami Leagues’ party slogan ‘Joy Bangla’. It was by sheer stroke of luck that the two daughters of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived the mayhem of 15 August as they were living abroad at the time of occurrence.
After the fall of Ershad following as mass upsurge in the 1990s, it was perceived that Awami League will win the general election of 1991 and form the government. But due to lack of inner cohesiveness amongst the allies and unofficial alliance between BNP and Jamaat instead of Awami League it was BNP under the leadership of Begum Zia, the widow of General Zia, which won the election and formed the government. After forming the government Begum Zia would often say Awami League’s coming back to power will remain a dream and once she even audaciously said Awami League will never win more than ten seats in the next election. Recently Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, echoed his leader’s comments who (Begum Zia) is currently serving a long term jail convicted of corruption. Mirza said Awami League will not win more than thirty seats in the next election if the election is held under as non-party Care Taker government which has already been declared ultra vires of the Constitution by the Apex Court of Country in 2012. The court consisted of seven learned judges. As the case involved the Constitution of the country, the court appointed an eight member Amicus Curiae (friends of court) which consisted of eight very senior lawyers of the Apex Court that included learned lawyers like Dr. Kamal Hossain, Advocate M Amirul Islam, Senior Advocate Mr. Ajmalul Hossain QC, Senior Advocate T H Khan and Senior Advocate Rafique ul-Huq.
Though the next Jatiya Sangsad election is still two years away, BNP and its advisors in the guise of Civil Society wants the next election under an unconstitutional non-party Care Taker government and definitely not under the present government. For BNP and its allies this is not a new issue, it only resurfaces when a Jatiya Sangsad election is around the corner (this time it is two years away). In 2014, just before the Eleventh Parliamentary election, BNP and its allies came out with such unconstitutional demand. In the name of compelling the government to yield to their irrational demand they played havoc with people’s lives and public property. Considering the untold suffering of the people Sheikh Hasina even made a telephone call to Begum Zia and invited her to talk about the issue which Begum Zia declined. Sheikh Hasina even went to the extent of offering to form a coalition government with BNP Jatiya Sangsad members and offered them the all-important post of Home Ministry (at that time BNP was in the parliament). Begum Zia remained defiant. Just before the election Sheikh Hasina dissolved her cabinet and formed an interim cabinet with members from other parties except those from BNP sitting in the Jatiya Sangsad.
Amidst all these chaos and violence the elections were held which BNP boycotted and Awami League and its alliance came out with a big majority. Since then BNP and its allies have been left in the wilderness without any leadership or practical roadmap for the next election. Their Chairperson is serving a long jail term (now through an executive order living in her residence due to Covid-19 pandemic scare) and the acting Chairperson, the eldest son of Begum Zia, Tarique Rahman has been convicted in 2004 grenade attack case to kill Sheikh Hasina in a public rally. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment and living in London. In the eye of the law he is an absconding criminal.
Most members of the next tier BNP leadership appear like Alice in Wonderland. Their Secretary General and people like him think voters will choose BNP over Awami League if the next parliament election is held under an unconstitutional non-party Care Taker Government. They fail to realize that under the current government’s rule the socio-economic face of Bangladesh has changed dramatically. The country which at birth could not feed seventy five million people now can feed one hundred and seventy million. The country which survived on loans and relief now is in a position that can give loans and relief to other countries. In the twenty eight year rule of Zia, Ershad, Begum Zia and Fakhruddin Bangladesh could never come out of LDC status. Under Sheikh Hasina’s current thirteen year rule, it has graduated to a developing country and at the current pace it is destined to become a developed country by 2041. Sheikh Hasina has been credited for all these success and in recent times has been applauded for managing the Covid-19 pandemic better than any other country in South and South East Asia. In the 75th UNGA she has been awarded the ‘SDG Progress Award’, jointly by UN and Columbia University. The UN Secretary General António Guterres praised Bangladesh’s Prime Minister for her achievements terming Bangladesh a ‘development miracle’ under her leadership.
This year, along with the demand for the restoration of the unconstitutional non-party Care Taker government BNP and some of its civil think tanks have added the demand for forming the next Election Commission which will be acceptable to all parties and framing of a law as per the Clause 118 of the Constitution. Let us review what is in the Constitution regarding the forming of the Election. The Clause 118 says, “There shall be an Election Commission for Bangladesh …and the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (if any) shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf, be made by the President.” It is absolutely clear that the forming the Election Commission is the prerogative of the President. BNP and its allies are clamouring about the law notwithstanding the fact that in the recent past the President has consulted all the major political parties before forming the Election Commission. The current Election Commission was formed through a Search Committee comprising of personnel from judiciary, educationist and members of civil society. The President has exercised his prerogative and what he has done is the law. Perhaps it just needs to be in writing.
In between now and next election BNP and its civil military bureaucrat advisors will raise lots of noise regarding holding the next general election under an unconstitutional government and framing a law in writing as to forming an Election Commission. What will the government do is its choice? But what it does must be constitutional. It can even form an interim government with Jatiya Sangsad members elected from BNP in the 2018 election. People will not be surprised if in the end BNP decides to participate in the election as selling nominations is big business for the party hierarchy. However Awami League must be careful in between now and the next election as the party is virtually overtaken by infiltrators who could torpedo any good intention of Awami League.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator