Though the Islamic parties do not find the current political situation promising for fair polls, they have begun preparing for the 11th parliamentary election. Fresh calculations are already in process.
In the past, a significant section of the Islamic parties were against the Awami League, which went to BNP’s advantage. But, the election commission has cancelled Jamaat-e-Islami’s registration and the Islami Oikya Jote has left the BNP alliance. So the scenario has changed for BNP.
Moreover, the Char Monai Pir’s Islami Andolan Bangladesh, that shuns women’s leadership, has been preparing to contest in 300 constituencies.
The state of these three parties, notable among the religion-based parties in the country, may prove difficult for BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party).
The Islamic parties not very stable at the moment, as the top leaders point to the newly arising factions within the parties and pressure from the government. Several leaders also face cases.
In this backdrop, the government has grown close with Hefazat-e-Islam and the qawmi madrasa leaders. The political stance of the Islamic parties may change even further in the ensuing election.
Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, BNP standing committee member, differed, “BNP is the chief opposition to the government here. The people will keep this in mind,” he said. adding, “The people are now chiefly concerned with democracy, the right to vote, law and security. Everyone wants to change the prevailing state of affairs.”
Many are focused on the election
The qawmi madrasa-based Hefazat-e-Islam has become crucial in the election equations. On 5 May 2013, Hefazat’s demonstration in the Shapla Chattar area in Dhaka was foiled in face of an all-out operation by joint security forces.
Hefazat leaders claim their organisation to be non-political and have all along been saying they were not interested in elections. Nonetheless they had supported BNP in five city corporation polls. Eventually, BNP’s win in all the five contests won Hefazat credit to some extent.
The situation, though, changed later as several Hefazat leaders like Shah Ahmad Shafi, the amir and his son Anas Madani became close to the government. This was not received well by a different section of the party. They are silent on the issue and if situation favours, they might go against the government, said the party leaders.
Hefazat’s central organisational secretary Azizul Haque Islamabadi said, Hefazat will neither participate in the election nor nominate or support anyone, “To vote is every citizen’s right. Our leaders, activists and supporters are on the side of Islam and will cast their votes against atheists as per their perception and conscience. We won’t command anyone formally.”
The government apparently is aware that a section of Hefazat is hostile, but adopts a strategy to distance Hefazat from the BNP and to keep them inactive in the election. AL policymakers deem this will suffice.
The AL presidium member Kazi Zafarullah said, “They (Hefazat) were with BNP, and will remain so. It’s nothing but a strategy to save the skin for our leaders to maintain good communication.”
Jamaat is preparing for 70 constituencies
Jamaat, no longer a registered party anymore, is still preparing for the polls. The potential candidates have been asked to get ready. Jamaat leaders say they want to contest in the polls as allies of BNP with independent candidates, as their party symbol (scales) is no longer registered.
Sources from the party also said their policymakers had started preparing in 70 constituencies.
Earlier, on 12 March, police arrested 10 Rajshahi Jamaat leaders including the acting amir Mujibur Rahman from an election-related meeting.
10 registered parties
There are 10 Islamic parties among the 40 political parties registered by the EC: Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Islami Oikya Jote (Nezami), Bangladesh Tariqat Federation (Nazibul Bashar), Khelafat Majlish (Ishaq), Bangladesh Khelafat Majlis (Haibur Rahman), Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan (Ataur rahman), Bangladesh Islami Front (Mannan), Islamic Front Bangladesh (Bahadur Shah), Zaker Party (Mostafa Amir) and Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Bangladesh (Momen).
Tariqat Federation and Islamic Front are directly associated with the Awami League while Khelafat Majlis and Jamiat Ulema-e Islam are with BNP. Islami Oikya Jote (Nezami), and Bangladesh Khelafat Majlis were once BNP allies but have now taken independent positions. The current political stance of Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan, Bangladesh Islami Front, and Zaker party seems advantageous for the ruling party.
Bangladesh Islami Front (Mannan) has been included in the Ershad-led Sammilita Jatiya Jote.
The Islami Oikya Jote general secretary Mufti Faizullah said, “Each of the parties has done what it felt needed for itself and for the people. The present perspective is a little different. It seems there may be a new polarisation for the Islamic parties.”
The Tariqat Federation has two elected members of parliament and the party allegiance is also with the government. The leaders said they would seek candidacy in 10 constituencies from the AL led 14-party alliance.
Stressing the need to contest in the election, MA Awal, general secretary of Tariqat Federation says, “The way the prime minister is developing the country, the left or right-winged or Islamic-everyone feels the need of power politics now. We think, this will impact upon all the parties in the next election.”
Islami Oikya Jote, Jamiat Ulema-e Islam and Bangladesh Khelafot Andolan-all these three registered parties have been divided into six parties. Among these a fraction of Islami Oikya Jote led by Abdur Rakib has been siding with BNP while the original party left the alliance. On the other hand, the two sections of the divided Jamiat are still with the 20 party. Moreover, the Zafrullah Khan led faction of the Khelafat Andolan is yet to take a stance.
Abdur Rab Yousufi, vice president of Jamiat Ulema-e Islam, credits the new stance of the Islamic parties to be fear, “Those whom the government seems to have succeeded to keep on their side-were actually victims of circumstance. I don’t think they will remain on their side.”
The Nezami-led section of the Islami Oikya Jote is preparing to participate in the polls independently. Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (Momen) had declared candidacy for 19 constituencies on 24 February in Sylhet.
The Islami Andolan of Char Monai pir has already introduced potential candidates for more than a hundred constituencies at their sermons and religious gatherings.
Gazi Ataur Rahman, joint secretary for Islami Andolan, told Prothom Alo, “The situation is not fair yet. Nor is there any hope of improvement one or two months ahead of the election. The people are in fear over whether they can cast their votes in an inclusive and fair election. Despite that, we are preparing for the election.”
Sources from the EC said, five more religion-based Islamic parties have sought registration from the commission. They also said, both the registered and unregistered parties will actively remain in the election field this year. So the Islamic parties’ stances largely depend on the situation during the election.
Emajuddin Ahamed, a political scientist and ex-vice chancellor of Dhaka University says, “The Islamic parties’ stand is not yet final-they may even form an independent alliance. Their turn could be predicted as the election approaches.”
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.