Senior Awami League leader and health and family welfare minister Mohammad Nasim has made a broad hint that BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia would be freed before the next general elections.
“We believe the election should be competitive. A large number of people support major political parties. I would expect Khaleda will be out of jail during the coming elections,” he told Prothom Alo, when asked if the Awami League government would go to the parliamentary polls excluding the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, now in jail in a graft case.
Asked how many seats the BNP would be able to secure, the AL leader said the election would be competitive, should the BNP contest. “The BNP is a major party so we see good contest if it joins,” he said claiming that the people of the country have accepted prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s 10-year rule as a positive one in view of stability and infrastructure building in rural areas.
Asked if “the Awami League considers development as more important than democracy,” Nasim said, “The Awami League doesn’t think so. We think, democracy and development will go hand in hand… Economic attainment is one of the key elements of democracy that we talk about these days.”
“The question does not arise as to whether we drop democracy (as state principle),” he said recalling that AL president Sheikh Hasina introduced the bills for restoring parliamentary form of government even after being defeated in the elections in 1991.
Asked if such spirit is lost since 2014 one-sided election, Mohammad Nasim denied this and said Sheikh Hasina had before the election requested Khaleda Zia to join the polls-time government.
He also alleged that the BNP leadership tried to resist the election - an action that the AL termed anti-people.
Asked if a formula for pre-polls government comprising all parties is still not valid, Nasim said the BNP is not in parliament now.
He also claimed that the administration would come under the jurisdiction of the election commission once polls schedule is announced.
Asked if the government would hold a ‘controlled election’ like that of the Khulna City Corporation polls, Nasim rejected such a proposition and said the BNP could not prove rigging in that election.
Asked why the BNP is denied permission for holding public meetings more often than not, the minister said it’s a matter of the administration which has to think about law and order since the militant attacks in 2016.
He also claimed that there is no political killing on the plea of anti-drug drive.
Saying that he does not support extrajudicial killing, Nasim pointed out that the drug peddlers were destroying the society.
Asked if Jatiya Party chairman and the prime minister’s special emissary HM Ershad would form alliance with the BNP, the AL leader said that might be possible given the restlessness of Ershad.
Asked if the government is trying to split the BNP, Nasim said the AL would not make such a mockery.
Asked if any special initiative would be taken to bring the BNP to the elections or the party would come on its own decision, Nasim said, “A political party cannot survive without elections… I hope, the BNP, too, will come to the elections and at that time, Khaleda Zia, too, will remain outside of the jail.”
* This interview, originally published in verbatim form in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Khawaza Main Uddin