Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in an exclusive interview with Prothom Alo has said now is not the time to say if the party will go to the general elections later this year or not.
The 11th parliamentary elections shall be held by the third week of January 2019 as per the present constitution after the 15th amendment brought by ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL) in 2011.
AL president and prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who came to power in a military controlled election in 2008, however, said on a number of occasions that the next general elections will be held in December this year.
Asked who would be BNP’s Mahathir if it wins the next polls as the party often refers to Malaysia’s recent elections, Fakhrul said, “We haven’t yet decided if we will join the polls or not. We haven’t taken a decision that we will join the polls in a situation when Khaleda Zia will remain in the jail and Tarique Rahman outside the country.”
BNP chairperson and former prime minister Khaleda Zia has been in jail since 8 February and her son and party’s senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman has been in London since 2008.
Asked if the party wants to shelve the question of making prime minister anybody from outside the Zia dynasty, Fakhrul said, “Yes, because the time for making such a decision is yet to come. It involves more discussion and consultation. We’re not even ruling out the possibility of joining the polls.”
Asked how long BNP senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman will be “absconding” outside the country when his mother Khaleda is languishing in jail and in poor health, he said Tarique is not scared at all.
“He needs to physiotherapy twice in a week. He’s yet to recover the spinal injury he suffered during the 1-11 regime. He won’t be able to get the therapy once he is back to the country and then won’t recover. Given the present circumstances in the country, we won’t see him in good health.”
Dwelling on the health of Khaleda, Fakhrul said, “She has been suffering from osteoarthritis and it has deteriorated, affecting not only her knees but also her arms. Her left arm has grown heavy. She can’t hold anything with that arm. She is also suffering from a neck ache due to spondylitis.”
Asked if the party has taken the issue to the court, Fakrhul replied in the negative and said, “Our experience is that the authorities form a medical board primarily composed pro-government doctors. We can’t seek the inclusion of private doctors.”
About the possibility of going to polls under AL president Sheikh Hasina, Fakhrul said the party never said specifically that it would or wouldn’t join the polls under Hasina. “We’ll continue our street campaign and then will decide after observing the government’s actions.”
When his attention was drawn to a court that slapped a moratorium on publication of a speech of Tarique Rahman as long as he remains absconding, Fakhrul said the Bangladesh media hasn’t given due consideration to this matter.
“Those who believe in freedom of expression, and want to hear voices of dissent, should have looked into the matter.”
Asked why the party didn’t file an appeal against the court order, the BNP leader said they didn’t do so because of their experience.
“Whenever we move to the court with any issue, our appeal has been rejected every time. The court’s view of us is negative. We went to the court in the case of Madam’s [Khaleda] affairs, but we know we will not get results. We will however look into the matter as it’s a serious threat to freedom of press and freedom of expression.”
About the possibility of BNP forging any alliance with HM Ershad, Fakhrul said, “There is no last word in politics. It depends on the situation. There’s been no communication with him [Ershad] so far. We had got him before the 2014 controversial elections, but he was picked up at gunpoint.”
Asked why BNP doesn’t speak of banning its ally Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami now as it sometimes did in the past, Fakhrul said, “We usually say so when they [AL] criticises us for not leaving them.”
“Doesn’t it suggest that both AL and BNP need Jamaat-e-Islami?” In reply to such a question, Fakhrul said, “No, Jamaat is with us because we wanted them.”
About the key election agenda in the next polls - either corruption or extra judicial killing, Fakhrul said, “Along with these two issues, restoration of democracy will be a key issue.”
Asked when BNP will give the outline of an election-time government it wants, he said, “It will depend on the situation too. A country like Pakistan which is often dubbed as a failed state has formed a caretaker government with a consensus of ruling and opposition parties.”
In reply to another question, he said the BNP wouldn’t join the polls simply to give any party the legitimacy.
Asked when and how the negation between AL and BNP which was brokered by then United Nation’s special envoy Oscar Fernandez-Taranco had failed in the run up to the 2014 elections, the BNP secretary general said, “AL was intransigent. It insisted that holding elections is mandatory. There was no time in hand. The election schedule can’t be changed. They said they would hold the polls just because of constitutional obligation and will negotiate a consensus with us shortly after the elections. And Mr Taranco is the biggest witness to their promise.”
Asked what China, India, Russia and the United States are saying about the next general elections, Fakhrul said, “China, India and the US want a participatory election here. The European Union is playing a big role their end. But Russia has said nothing about it.”
*The article has been rewritten by Abu Taib Ahmed based on an interview which came up in Prothom Alo print edition Monday.