With certain confusion about its electoral prospects, former military ruler HM Ershad's Jatiya Party (JaPa) is yet to reach any understanding with the ruling Awami League (AL) about the number of seats for contesting the parliamentary polls.
In the process of fielding candidates from the ruling alliance in all 300 constituencies, the AL has till date kept 23 seats for the JaPa which, however, demanded 52 for competing from the collective platform.
The AL which has nominated party candidates in 263 constituencies, leaving 14 seats for other partners of the 14-party alliance and other allies, sources in the AL parliamentary board said.
An AL electoral ally but not part of the 14-party alliance, the JaPa has fielded candidates in as many as 210 constituencies although 20 nominations have already been rejected.
The AL's distribution of seats with the partners may not be clear until 9 December, the last date for withdrawal of nomination. JaPa contests the polls with its own election symbol, plough, unlike other AL allies who take the ruling party's boat symbol.
The AL initially assured the JaPa of giving 45 seats but with the latest political development, Ershad's party has lost some of its relevance to the AL, says a top JaPa leader.
The JaPa leaders 'fully' understand they have no alternative but to accept whatever the AL finally shares with it.
The number of seats the JaPa would eventually be offered depends on how far AL president, prime minister Sheikh Hasina can take Ershad into confidence and how she values his party as a strategic ally.
Joining elections of the opposition coalition of Jatiya Oikya Front especially the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, as observers believe, has apparently changed the whole political equation.
The AL sources say, Ershad's volatile decisions before the 2014 general elections have made the AL camp 'suspicious and annoyed' about him this time around as well.
In case the Oikya Front and BNP coalition pulls out of the elections, the AL may try to make up with the JaPa in some parliamentary constituencies to prove the elections to be inclusive.
Several JaPa leaders said the AL is no longer holding any formal meeting on seat sharing with them. On their own initiative, the JaPa leaders are maintaining liaison with the AL leaders to secure their participation in respective constituencies with the AL blessing.
The octogenarian chairman of the JaPa he formed during his 1982-1990 rule, Ershad is often running between hospital and home, according to reports quoting party and alliance leaders.
Party co-chairman Rowshan Ershad, who has been the official leader of the opposition in parliament since 2014, is learned to have not been active in electoral affairs.
The recently removed JaPa general secretary, Ruhul Amin Hawlader, had held a few meetings with the AL general secretary Obaidul Quader.
However, his replacement on Monday by Mashiur Rahaman Ranga, has further weakened the party in the bargain for seats with the AL.
“I don’t know exactly in how many seats we will contest. We demanded 52 seats earlier and still we demand the same number. It will be known in a couple of days. I have talked to Anisul Islam Mahmud [JaPa leader and environment minister] and the prime minister after the cabinet meeting today (Monday),” Mashiur Rahaman Ranga told a news briefing at the party chairman’s office in Banani.
In 14 constituencies the AL has kept for closer allies, cabinet members and senior leaders of the 14-party alliance have submitted nomination papers to contest with the boat symbol.
As against the AL hint of giving 23 seats to the JaPa, Ershad's party is still going ahead with 210 candidates with 20 cancelled. The JaPa leadership does not know if the party would finally withdraw all its candidates after the AL finalises the number.
On its part, the AL will try till the last minute to persuade its rebel candidates to withdraw from the constituencies where the JaPa has candidates. Moreover, the AL may pull out 12-14 of its main contenders from the race to accommodate the JaPa aspirations.
If that happens, the JaPa may at best get 36 seats to contest the 30 December parliamentary polls, according to the sources in the AL parliamentary board.
Subject to the next political development, the AL may sacrifice 10 more seats for the JaPa, the 14 party alliance and even the party's rebel candidates.
A coalition of mistrust
Even the 23 seats the AL and other closer alliance refrained from fielding their candidates, are not free of complexities for the JaPa.
In Brahmanbaria-2, the JaPa has nominated Rezaul Islam Bhuiyan ignoring the incumbent JaPa MP and his father in law Ziaul Haque Mridha, creating agitation among his supporters.
Six of the AL’s rebel leaders have submitted nomination papers for the same seat. With four of the nominations being rejected by the election commission, two are still in the race.
In Narayanganj-3, the current JaPa MP Liakat Hossain is supposed to contest the polls from the AL alliance but two AL rebel leaders are contesting there.
There is no AL nominee for Moulvibazar-2 where AL’s rebel candidate Abdul Matin won in the last elections. This time around JaPa candidate Mahibul Quadir Chowdhury’s nomination was cancelled while Matin is still contesting as independently.
Though the AL has no candidate in Feni-3 constituency, it has three rebel candidates who are contesting against JaPa candidate former army officer Masud Uddin Chowdhury.