BNP faces a dilemma as Zahidur Rahman of the Thakurgaon-3 constituency violated party discipline to take oath as a member of parliament (MP). A number of others in the party are likely to follow the suit. Party leaders and activists are irked at this sudden decision for the MP and the party’s leadership is at a loss too.

Leaders within BNP see the government’s hand in luring these elected MPs away from the party to take oath in parliament. This may create a rift in the unity which the party had managed to maintain for so long. It may also create a lack of confidence in the party’s top leadership.

There had recently been speculations that Khaleda Zia would be released on parole and sent abroad on treatment. In response, the elected BNP leaders would join parliament. However, without Khaleda Zia being released or sent abroad, Zahidur Rahman suddenly decided to take oath. Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury swore him in on Thursday afternoon.

Shocked at this decision, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir remained at home yesterday. Speaking to Prothom Alo at night, he said, “We remain firm in our decision not to join the parliament. There is no scope to do otherwise. Joining the parliament has been a breach of party discipline. Organisational action will be taken in this regard.”

Zahidur Rahman did not join the parliament session after taking oath yesterday. He told newsmen that other than the secretary general, the rest of those elected from the party would be likely to take oath too. If they did, then they would all attend the parliament session together.

It has been learnt that five of the six leaders who won in the election on a BNP ticket, would be joining the parliament shortly. The names being heard so far in this regard include Md Aminul Islam of Chapainawbganj-2, Md Harunur Rashid of Chapaiawabganj-3, Ukil Abdus Sattar of Brahmanbaria-2 and Md Mosharraf Hossain of Bogura-4. They reportedly are in contact with quarters within the government.

When asked if he would be taking oath, BNP’s Harunur Rashid said, “Wait until 30 April.”

Ukil Abdus Sattar said, “It has not been decided as yet.”

However, he told Prothom Alo that they were under pressure to join parliament from those who had taken the risk to vote for them in the election.

The decision of BNP’s standing committee is not to join the parliament which was formed through, what they called the rigged election of 30 December. Jatiya Oikya Front and BNP from the night of 30 December have been rejecting the results and demanding reelection.

Gono Forum has already condemned and expelled two of its leaders, Sultan Mohammed Mansur and Mokabbir Khan, for violating party directives and taking oath as members of parliament. BNP is also to take action against its central executive committee member and MP Zahidur Rahman. This will be decided at the party’s standing committee meeting on Saturday.

It is speculated that much may occur by 29 April. One of the speculations is that BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, now undergoing treatment at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) will be released on parole or on bail. Some of the party’s MP-elects are waiting for this decision so that they may join the parliament after she is freed.

Ukil Abdus Sattar told Prothom Alo, “That is what we are waiting for.”

According to the constitution, the elected members must be sworn in within 90 days of the parliament’s first session or else their seats will be declared vacant. The first meeting of this session was held on 30 January and so 90 days will be complete on 29 April.

Several BNP leaders and activists turned up at the party’s central office in Naya Paltan upon the news of Zahidur Rahman taking the oath. They were irate with the senior leadership for not taking any measures to thwart such action despite speculations about the matter being circulated over the past few days.

BNP standing committee member Gayeswar Roy has taken a firm stand against joining the parliament without Khaleda Zia being released. He termed those deciding to join parliament against the party decision as “public enemies”. He said they would not be considered members of the party.

On the other hand, Zahidur Rahman has said, “I have no desire to contest in the elections anymore. I am weary. I have been contesting in the elections since 1991. If the party expels me, let them. I am not leaving the party. I will remain with it.”

There is reportedly a move within BNP to have Khaleda Zia released in parole and then having the MPs join parliament. The matter is being discussed with government quarters behind the scenes, according to party and government sources. However, there are differences of opinion on the matter within the party’s leadership. Many of the leaders are shocked at the MP taking oath despite contrary directives from the standing committee. This, they say, indicates that the top leadership is losing control.

There is also debate as to whether they will remain members of parliament if they are expelled by the party from which they were elected. Once elected, if a person leaves his party or votes against his party in parliament, then his seat will be considered vacant. Sultan Mansur, Mokabbir Khan and Zahidur Rahman did not resign from their respective parties and there is no scope for them to vote against their parties in parliament. The constitution has no clear directives as to what decision will be taken regarding them as they may be expelled from their parties for going against party decision to join the parliament. The Representation of the People Order, though, maintains that a person must have party membership to be considered a member of parliament.

BNP’s standing committee member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury told Prothom Alo, “Such opportunist leaders crop up from time to time. Such people will always be there in politics. It really is not an issue as to how many will join parliament. This does not affect BNP. The people of the country, the international community, have rejected this election. Their joining the parliament will not change people’s opinions.”

Lawyer Shahdeen Malik told Prothom Alo, “There are many points that indicate Zahidur Rahman has violated Article 70 by joining parliament in violation of the party decision. It is stated that if anyone is elected from a party, he cannot go against the decision of that party. If he does so, he will lose membership of the party. So Zahidur has gone against the spirit of Article 70. In that consideration, he is disqualified from being a member of parliament.”

  • This report appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir