Awami League won’t let BNP reorganise

Flags of Awami League and BNP

Governing Bangladesh Awami League (AL) is determined to keep Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from breaking free of its current predicament, especially as many of its leaders are in jail, and a significant number are in hiding. The policymakers of the ruling party maintain that they will not be swayed by criticism, and they are not inclined to yield to any foreign attempts, pressures, or requests. The Awami League is steadfast in its plan to proceed with the upcoming national parliament election while keeping BNP in this vulnerable state.

A senior leader of the ruling party informed Prothom Alo that following the police killings on 28 October, BNP leaders and workers have gone into hiding. Consequently, they are unwilling to allow BNP any opportunity to organise events or gatherings.

AL policymakers believe that BNP's blockade programme has largely been limited to burning some vehicles in the evening. The ongoing arrests of BNP leaders and workers are expected to further diminish BNP's capacity until the election schedule is officially announced.

The Awami League and a few other political parties plan to initiate preparations for the polls after its schedule is announced, which is anticipated to render the blockade ineffectual. Additionally, due to the preparedness of law enforcement forces and the kind of loyalty they have to the government, there is minimal risk of significant incidents, even on the polling day.

Several central leaders of the Awami League have said that the police are targeting influential BNP leaders who have control over their activists. The Awami League's party leaders and members are committed to remaining vigilant and active. Particular caution will be exercised in Dhaka, with the primary objective of maintaining control over the capital city.

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Sources within the ruling party have indicated that the Awami League perceives no significant internal obstacles or pressures that would deter them from conducting the election. Consequently, the ruling party does not sense any additional risks associated with the electoral process.

Mahbub Ul Alam Hanif, a Joint General Secretary of the Awami League, stated to Prothom Alo, "What BNP is currently engaged in is unrelated to the election. These activities are all acts of terrorism, and the law enforcement forces are fully capable of curbing them. Once the election schedule is announced, the blockade will dissipate in the spirit of the voting process."

Future of arrested BNP leaders

Awami League party sources have indicated that the BNP leaders, who have been arrested at various levels, from the policymaking echelon to the grassroots, are unlikely to be released before the parliamentary elections. Two alternative approaches for dealing with the arrested BNP leaders are being considered within different quarters of the government. 

The first approach aims to curtail the authority of the party's acting chairperson, Tarique Rahman, in BNP's decision-making process. The second approach involves releasing the leaders who would be willing to leave the party and commit to participating in the elections as independent candidates or through recently registered pro-government parties. In this case they could be assured of victory.

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Some of the policymakers within the Awami League believe that the more challenging issues, such as demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's resignation, election boycott, and enforcing hartal and blockade, are the decisions of Tarique Rahman. Despite some leaders within BNP desiring a more flexible stance, they find themselves constrained by Tarique Rahman's influence. In such a situation, initiating efforts to weaken Tarique Rahman's decision-making authority within the party may present an opportunity to secure bail for these BNP leaders.

Leaders within the Awami League believe that no leader is likely to be released if they persist in demanding Sheikh Hasina's resignation, which appears to be influenced by Tarique Rahman. Furthermore, it is anticipated that grassroots leaders with significant influence on the ground and followers of top leaders may also face arrest.

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Mirza Azam, an organising secretary of the Awami League, mentioned to Prothom Alo that BNP workers have become more restrained following the police killings. Many leaders have been arrested or have gone into hiding. Presently, incidents mainly involve the burning of vehicles, but this is unlikely to persist. Nonetheless, the Awami League will continue both its preparations and vigilance for the elections.

AL prepares for election in full swing

The Awami League plans to initiate selling of nomination forms to its interested members once the election commission (EC) announces the polls schedule. Sources within the party have revealed that two teams are collaborating to leverage the administration and employ campaign strategies for the upcoming elections.

A committee, led by former Principal Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office, Abul Kalam Azad, is overseeing administrative matters. Additionally, two former secretaries of the election commission are part of this committee.

Furthermore, a team, under the leadership of former Cabinet Secretary Kabir bin Anwar, is operating nationwide to manage digital campaigns, counter anti-government propaganda, and highlight the government's development initiatives. They are taking the initiative to form a group of 600,000 individuals across the country for this purpose. 

The Awami League is actively preparing for the upcoming election at the grassroots level. For instance, the anti-blockade processions are incorporating slogans related to voting, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is actively seeking votes during her rallies.

Led by party presidium member and Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque, efforts are underway to prepare the manifesto for the upcoming elections. The committee responsible for this has already held three meetings and sought public opinions. It is reported that the draft will be prepared shortly. The primary slogan of this year's manifesto will be 'Smart Bangladesh.' 

Awami League presidium member Kazi Zafar Ullah conveyed to Prothom Alo that the BNP will experience the consequences of its own actions. Nevertheless, the Awami League is diligently continuing its election preparations. 

*This report, originally appeared in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat