Monday, 29 May, 2023

Straight Talk

BNP’s Politics at a Crossroads

Abdul Mannan

BNP’s Politics at a Crossroads
Abdul Mannan

With the 12th National Election just around the corner, to be more specific, few months away,  Bangladesh’s first military ruler, General Zia’s founded party BNP  is yet undecided whether to participate in the coming election or not. They were adamant in not participating in the 10th. National Election held in 2014 and instead of just boycotting the election they along with their political goons created a reign of terror throughout the country killing approximately three hundred innocent people, maiming double than that and destroying public property worth millions through arson and petrol bombs. It was only the determination and courage of Awami League’s President and incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that the election was held and all likeminded political parties joined hands with her and amidst threat of terror and intimidation the election was held in which Bangladesh Awami League and its allies emerged victorious. BNP’s excuse for not participating in the election was that no election under the ruling party could be held in a free and fair manner and so they need to foil the election. They forgot that Awami League even participated in the election of 1979 held during the rule of General Zia under most difficult conditions and only managed to win in 39 seats. It protested the unprecedented circumstances under which the election was held but sat in the Parliament as the Opposition Party. The primary concept of BNP’s politics is it does not matter how they must always be in power as the party was born when its founder General Zia elbowed himself into seizing the state power after the killing of the Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. A day after he seized power, as any other military dictator Zia too announced over public media that he is a professional soldier and when the time was right he would hand over the power to the elected representative of people and return back to barracks which he never did. On the contrary, he did his best to undo everything that Bangladesh stood for, allowed the anti-Bangladesh forces to freely do politics in the country which they did not believe in, trashed the spirit of our Liberation War and eventually incorporated his idea of Bangladesh into the Constitution of 1972 which is said to be written with the blood of 3 million martyrs of Bangladesh in 1971. Zia’s actions as a military ruler ended with establishing his own political party, BNP.

BNP’s demand for participation in the election of 2014 was that the election must be held under a ‘Neutral Caretaker’ government, a system incorporated earlier in the Constitution. After the fall of the country’s second military ruler General Ershad all the parties and organizations which wage a successful movement to overthrow the military dictator Ershad, including both Awami League and BNP, agreed the election of 1991 would be held in a specially formed election time government to be headed by the Chief Justice of Bangladesh. Accordingly the election of 1991 was held under the leadership of incumbent Chief Justice Shahabuddin in which BNP emerged as the winner.

The National Election held under such a unique condition should have been over with the election of 1991 but it did not as BNP during its first rule under Begum Zia did everything possible to prolong their stay in power by resorting to all types of unscrupulous methods including mass rigging in the by-elections of Magura and Dhaka-10 constituencies. It was BNP and their allies that prepared the ground for reforming the election process and holding it under an election time `Neutral Care Taker’ government. But BNP would never agree to such a demand of all parties outside its fold. BNP never paid any heed to this demand and went on to hold a farcical election on 15 February, 1996, which was boycotted by all parties. In this election, 162 candidates of BNP were elected uncontested and to the surprise of all 16 constituencies even had no contestants and thus had no representatives of any sort in the parliament. One of the self-confessed killers of Bangabandhu and his entire family Col (Dismissed) Abdur Rashid was `elected’ from Cumilla, nominated by Freedom Party, the party audaciously floated during the regime of Ershad by the killers of 15th August 1975. Rashid was subsequently made the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament.

So by all rationale and precedence the Parliament thus formed was virtually incomplete. While Begum Zia formed a government the pressure mounted to dissolve the parliament and hold a fresh election under an election time `Neutral Caretaker’ government. At first, Begum Zia though would not yield to this demand but under a widespread mass upsurge spearheaded by Awami League was compelled to incorporate the system of holding of national election in the Constitution and in an unprecedented circumstances, Begum Zia had to dissolve the parliament only being in power for twelve days. The subsequent election held under the amended process was won by Awami League and its allies.  After twenty one years under the leadership of Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina, Awami League was back in power in 1996 and till 2001 her rule was eventful, the most important being the beginning of the trial of the killers of the Father of the Nation with his entire family only to be stalled when again Begum Zia returned to power in the election of 2001. It was her husband who gave indemnity to the killers of Bangabandhu and his entire family.

After completion of her term, Sheikh Hasina handed over the power to the newly formed ‘Caretaker Government’ peacefully without trying to hold on to the power through any conspiratorial means. So far so good. The problem arose when BNP and her allies, including Jamaat, again tried to prolong their stay in power after Begum Zia’s rule ended in 2006. Again another mass movement which was too hot to handle by BNP and eventually stepped in the military backed 1/11 government under Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed who also could not stay within the limits of the Constitution. They prolonged their stay for two years defying the constitutional obligation of holding the election within 90 days, arrested Sheikh Hasina and few months later arrested Begum Zia. According to one of the Caretakers, Begum Zia’s arrest was made to balance the arrest of Sheikh Hasina.

Under another movement of Awami League, Dr. Fakhruddin’s Caretaker government who were dragging their feet and decided to find excuses to prolong their stay had to announce the 2008 election in which Awami League won a landslide victory and formed the government under the premiership of Sheikh Hasina. In a writ filed by one Abdul Mannan Khan in 2005 (during the rule of Begum Zia), the 13th Amendment of the Constitution (Caretaker Government) was declared void prospectively in 2013 by the Apex Court of the country. When the 10th Parliament Election approached, BNP and its allies knowing that it may not be easy for them to win in this election demanded that the election be held under the scrapped Caretaker Government which neither the Election Commission nor the Government could agree due to legal bindings. To force their demand as mentioned BNP-Jamaat axis resorted to extreme violence across the country. This was a very costly and miscalculated step by BNP which some of their leaders seems to have realized later. If they contested the election nominating formidable and competent candidates they could have easily won in a decent number of seats.

Realizing the mistakes of 2014 BNP and its allies decided to contest the election of 2018 under the leadership of once Bangabandhu’s Foreign Minister Dr. Kamal Hossain but under a different banner `Jatiyo Oikyo Front’. At this time, BNP’s Chairperson Begum Zia and the Acting Chairperson, her son, Tarique Rahman were both convicted on different criminal charges and while Begum Zia was in prison in the country, her son was absconding in London. The Front not only included members of BNP but also covertly the members of Jamaat. Few other small parties contested the election of 2018. The most self-defeating step taken by BNP, more specifically by its Acting Chairperson was that in many constituencies there were more than one candidate contesting from Front. According to many observers and analysts, it was done first to damage the credibility of the election and more important was that Front nominations were sold to the highest bidder resulting in more than one contestant contesting in most constituencies. This created a complete chaotic situation and as expected the election ended with lots of questions as to its fairness and transparency.

It was unfortunate for Dr. Kamal Hossain that he allowed his name to be used as a façade by BNP to further their political and economic gains instead of regaining their lost space in the politics of the country.

As of now BNP and most of its new found allies, including some left oriented and fundamentalist parties including some rag-tag one man outfits have returned back to square one, demanding that the 12th Parliamentary Election be held under the scrapped Caretaker system and outside the bindings of the Constitution. Interestingly in no other country of the world does such a system exist except in Pakistan which have already turned into a collapsed state. The ruling party on a number of occasion reiterated that the Constitution cannot be changed just to accommodate the irrational whims of any person or political parties as the spirit of a democratic system will be compromised with as discussed in the judgment of 13th Amendment Case. The election will be conducted by the Election Commission and not the government and powers of all the important ministries like the Home, Public Administration will be placed under the Election Commission as soon the election schedule is announced and the present government will not make any policy decision or interfere with working of the Election Commission. The Commission will become the defecto election time government. There is also a pressure from international community that the coming election be held in a free and fair manner. No one should object to such an expectation for the betterment and sustainable democracy in this country and furthering the image of the country. The government also has to play its due role.

In the meantime BNP and its allies in the name of compelling the current government to step down, dissolve the Election Commission and form a new one and hold an election under a non-existent unconstitutional government have been holding rallies across the country and regularly demands that under no circumstances they will participate in any election under the present government. BNP mistakenly thinks that the general people are with them not realizing the hardship the people of this country had to endure the mayhem in 2013 and 2014 created by them. The birth of BNP is shrouded in all sorts of controversy and its only objective is lust for power. They do not realize that a political party in democratic system cannot exist for long with such an objective. They must gain acceptance of the common people by their pro-people deeds. Mere political rhetoric and jingoism serves no purpose.

What BNP and its allies are doing they will continue to do this for some more time but at the end BNP may not have any alternative than to participate in the election under the present Constitution. There are few sane people in BNP who are expected to realize the ground reality and motivate the top leadership of the party to take a more positive, pro-people and workable decisions rather than creating unrest in the country. They should also recall the history of Muslim League, the party which founded Pakistan but today it has gone into oblivion, never expected to make a comeback. For a functioning of a democratic system any country needs political parties with proper pro-people agenda and a proper leadership which at this moment BNP seems to lack. Keeping the emotions aside it must realize that the current leadership sitting in London will not take them very far and if it boycotts the next election it may just be the end of BNP. Any democratic system is strengthened only through the presence of pro-people and patriotic political parties. Currently it also is the duty of the Election Commission to make the coming election as fair and transparent as possible exercising all powers given to it by the Constitution. BNP currently is at a crossroads and walking a tight rope and if fails to choose the right path it may be the end of the road. Let good sense prevail


The writer is an analyst and a commentator