Ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and its archrival main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are at loggerheads over the next general elections, signalling a possible political turmoil with human casualties.
Sheikh Hasina-led AL which came to power through a military-controlled election in 2008 and is continuing in power beyond the five-year tenure by holding a controversial election in 2014 is planning to hold the next elections keeping her arch-enemy Khaleda Zia in jail.
Former prime minister Khaleda, who leads BNP, was sent to jail on 8 February on charge of corruption.
While the ruling AL is devising strategies to keep Khaleda incarcerated until the next polls is over, BNP is making preparations to ensure that the party can join the elections with Khaleda out of the jail.
Party senior leaders said they are considering a strong street campaign and may even call to resist the polls if it is held with Khaleda in jail, as it did in the run up to the 5 January 2014 general elections.
Over one hundred people were killed prior to the 5 January 2014 elections with about 20 people killed on the election day alone.
AL president and prime minister Sheikh Hasina has already announced that the 11th parliamentary elections will be held in December and the election commission on Monday said it will announce the schedule in October.
The more the rivalry between the country’s two major is emerging, the more a sense of fear brews in the public mind. Given the prevailing political circumstances, people are not confident that the country is going to get a free, fair and credible election.
Talking to Prothom Alo, BNP leaders said the government is going ahead with its old blueprint and convicting Khaleda in a “false corruption case” and delaying her bail are the part of that blueprint.
Now the government, the BNP leaders think, has undertaken a new strategy of keeping BNP leaders engaged with newer issues and to divert people’s attention. Creating a controversy over the passport of BNP’s acting chairman Tarique Rahman is a part of the strategy.
When his attention was drawn to the BNP’s allegation, AL presidium member Muhammad Faruq Khan said BNP itself created the controversy over Khaleda’s conviction, delaying her bail, his illness and finally the controversy over the passport of Tarique Rahman.
He claimed that the government has no role here.
Political analysts think that the government has so far been successful in keeping BNP under pressure after jailing Khaleda with no visible pressure from the international community.
A delegation of ruling AL has already visited India and met the top leadership of the ruling party there.
Although there was an effort by the ruling quarter to split the opposition after Khaleda’s jailing, AL failed to see success here.
Ruling party men, however, says that the government will be able to split BNP just before the next elections and will go ahead with the polls with the breakaway faction of BNP.
BNP top leadership, however, is aware of AL government’s plan. BNP officials said BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman is trying to figure out who may go for election without his mother Khaleda.
AL leader Faruq Khan said none want to lose in three fronts - war, love and elections. “So, fixed principles are not always followed in these three things.”
He alleged that BNP is trying to earn people’s sympathy bringing the issue of Khaleda’s imprisonment to the fore ahead of the elections.
In reply, BNP standing committee member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury said, “This is not a matter of sympathy. The chief opposition leader has been jailed only to snatch people’s voting rights, and to snatch their constitutional and democratic rights.
He said elections are nearing fast whereas the environment was not conducive to holding free, fair, and credible polls.
“The government agencies are harassing opposition activists regularly by filing false cases and arresting them.”
On the other hand, he went on to say, ruling party leadership including the prime minister had begun their election campaigns spending money from the public exchequer. And BNP has lodged a complaint to the election commission in this regard too.
Talking to Prothom Alo, former election commissioner and political analyst M Sakhawat Hussain said the situation is very fluid.
“The situation is taking turns frequently although we don’t know what’s happening behind the curtain.”
When contacted, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, “Those who are thinking about the elections without Khaleda are living in fools’ paradise. She must be freed. We’ll join the elections along with our freed leader [Khaleda].”
Party insiders said a section in the party is aggrieved at the party leadership for their “failures to forge a strong street campaign to mount pressure on the government, forcing it to free Khaleda.”
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Taib Ahmed.