JaPa trying to exploit AL ‘weaknesses’

Selim Zahid . Dhaka | Update:

HM ErshadRuling Awami League is now in a shaky position in view of its declining popularity, according to former military ruler HM Ershad's Jatiya Party (JaPa).

If the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) joins the electoral race with full strength, JaPa leaders believe, the AL will fall into further vulnerability.

In such a situation, the JaPa, which is both in the AL's cabinet and the official opposition party in parliament, will bargain hard with the AL for increasing the number of seats for contesting the 11th parliamentary polls.

"The Jatiya Party will demand 100 seats to contest from the Awami League-led alliance," a senior leader of JaPa told Prothom Alo, adding that Ershad would soon talk to the alliance leader and prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, to raise the matter.

The JaPa policymakers believe the AL-led government would not have got legitimacy, nor could it have stayed in power in its full term after the one-sided polls on 5 January 2014, had the JaPa not been with the AL government.

The party is at the same time the 'determinant of power' and a 'safeguard' for the AL camp, according to JaPa leaders.

The AL will desperately need JaPa, no matter whether the BNP joins the election or boycott it, they added.

"If other parties including the BNP contest the elections, it would be tough for the Awami League alone to overcome the challenge. And if the BNP boycotts the election, JaPa's participation is a must to show the elections as an inclusive one," said one of them.

So, the JaPa leaders said, they have taken the decision in principle to demand more seats. The top leaders held several meetings on the matter.

"We will raise the demand for 100 seats. We know as the Awami League is a big party, they have some limitations. We have formed an alliance as well. The election must be held with all. The question is: If the Awami League cannot win or if the election is not possible without us, why will we be deprived of [more seats]?" JaPa general secretary ABM Ruhul Amin Hawlader said.

The JaPa top leaders feel the party will be more benefitted if they win more seats than securing two or three cabinet portfolios. Leaders and activists of the party at the grassroots may get higher facilities in the respective constituencies, than they receive three cabinet members from the party, the party leaders said.

However, some JaPa leaders think the party should bargain for higher number of cabinet portfolios, should the AL-led grand alliance win the next general elections.

A senior presidium member of JaPa, who preferred not to be named, said the party had a written agreement with the AL for giving 80 seats for JaPa in 2014. But many of the candidates withdrew their nomination following Ershad's sudden announcement to boycott the polls, the leaders recalled. As section of the party candidates under Rowshan Ershad's leadership were still in the race, the party's candidates were eventually declared winners in 34 seats.

The scenario is completely different this time around as the AL government is in trouble with allegations of corruption and killing, apart from challenge arising out of any decision of the BNP.

The government's isolation from the people was exposed in the recent movements for quota reform and road safety, the JaPa leader pointed out.

They observed that the joining an alliance with the AL involves certain risks for the JaPa. So, they feel, they should be rewarded.

The JaPa policymakers no longer want to play the role of a 'domestic' opposition party in the next parliament.

The leaders want to become a strong coalition partner if it joins the AL-led government, winning more seats in parliament.

Accordingly, the JaPa is trying to expanding its political alliance to enhance negotiation power. The JaPa chairman, Ershad, has already negotiated with the 59-party Sammilito Jatiya Jote including two registered Islamic parties.

The JaPa will field candidates in 300 seats if the BNP boycotts and try to exploit the anti-incumbency factor for changing the regime, JaPa co-chairman GM Quader said.

He added that the JaPa will form electoral alliance with the AL in case the BNP joins the race.

*This piece, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin

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