The new visa policy the United States has announced for Bangladesh to ensure a free and fair election process in the country has created opportunities for the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), think the top leaders of the party. But there are some risks too due certain opacity in the policy. This could turn into a matter of concern later, the party said. That is why the top leaders have been discussing how to use the US visa policy in the party’s favour, avoiding risks and worry.
The leaders of the de facto opposition also want to consider the matter as a positive development as the US visa policy was announced in the wake of their long movement.
Through this announcement of the US, the justification of BNP’s demands regarding free, fair and neutral elections have been proven finally, said the party leaders. In this context, they have been discussing how much pressure they would be able to exert on the government to press home their demand of holding next (12th) parliamentary election under a non-party caretaker government.
The new visa policy of the US said those who will impede the process of holding free and fair general elections, will come under its purview of restriction.
As a result, the BNP leaders also think if the movement does not remain peaceful or becomes violent, the US could consider this as a step to impede the process of holding the election. In the same way there would be risk of coming under the restrictions if preventing the election comes to the fore. Basically, the party is worried at these points and many of their leaders described these issues as risky.
It has been said that the visa restrictions centering the parliamentary elections would be applied to all political parties in the country. Ruling Awami League (AL) also said neither the government nor any one party is solely responsible for holding a free and fair election. Rather, BNP and other political parties also have this responsibility. Consequently, the new US visa policy is a warning to all the political parties. BNP is also considering the step of the US as a warning.
The party, however, has been interpreting the emerging situation a bit differently. Speaking to Prothom Alo, the party’s secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the onus is on the government to create a conducive environment for a free and fair election. That is why he thinks the government is in a discomfort due to the US policy.
Some of the BNP leaders think the government’s role in mitigating the dispute over electoral system and its reaction to opposition’s movement will determine whether the situation will remain peaceful or not. Some of the leaders also think this is important for BNP remain alert and adopt a proper strategy. However, they also have questions about how far that would be possible.
BNP is still unwavering in its position of not contesting in the election without a non-party government. The party has been trying to garner more support from the people in favour of its demand through continuous rallies, marches, human chains and other programmes from the capital city to the villages. But the party could not meet its demand of holding the parliamentary election under a non-party government in 2014 and 2018. However, it thinks the context is different now as the government is under pressure from inside and outside the government. The visa policy has exerted further pressure on the government.
At a stage of the movement in 2014, BNP announced resistance holding the election. The government went ahead and organised a one-sided parliamentary election. The movement of BNP took a violent turn later in 2014. In 2018, though the party was waging movement on demand of non-party government, it finally it took part in the polls.
This time from the very beginning BNP has been trying to organise movements peacefully. The leaders of the opposition have talked about heightened caution to keep the programmes peaceful following the US step. But the party is also in discussion about how far it would be able to keep the situation under control at the culmination of the movement and the government’s reaction to it. The BNP leaders also want to remain cautious so that none can blame the party for obstructing a conducive environment for a free and fair election.
The party at the same time thinks if it can draw in more people to its movement, keeping it peaceful, that would put more pressure on the government. They also think the government will not want to commit excesses like before due to the US restrictions. Besides, the government's grip on the administration and the law enforcement agencies might loosen as the US visa policy said the restrictions would be imposed on the immediate family members of the perpetrators too, think some of the leaders.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the US took the step as the government has taken everything including the electoral system under its control. This is nothing honourable for the country. Still this has been announced which proves the justification of BNP’s movement.
Mirza Fakhrul also mentioned, “Whatever the restrictions may be, we will remain active to press home our demand for non-party caretaker government. Our programmes will continue to that end."
He further said the onus will be on the government if it does not create a conducive environment for a free and fair environment. The party will take the movement forward peacefully as it has been doing until now, he added.
BNP also wanted that the international community put pressure on the government. Speeches of the leaders of the party at different times also hinted at that. Top leaders of the party held several meetings with western diplomats in the last few months. But the question of responsibility of all the political parties has arisen following the announcement of new US visa policy. As a result, BNP is now changing its strategy to press home its demand.
Stance of Jatiya Party
US ambassador in Bangladesh, Peter Haas, held a meeting with the leaders of ruling Awami League, de facto opposition BNP and opposition in parliament Jatiya Party after the announcement of the new visa policy.
Though Jatiya Party welcomed the step in the meeting, it is not with the BNP in its movement demanding non-party caretaker government. Currently the party is taking preparation to take part in the election under the incumbent government. The reason is, it is not possible for the Jatiya Party now to take a separate stand going against the ruling party.
Jatiya Party had to take part in the last (11th) parliamentary election following a compromise with the government and it got 26 seats including reserved women seats in the Jatiya Sangsad (parliament). Though the party leaders sometimes gave statements against the ruling Awami League, the party still has a certain kind of compromise with the AL. The party strategy is to “take position observing the situation”.
Speaking about the new US visa policy, Jatiya Party chairman and deputy opposition leader in parliament GM Quader told Prothom Alo on Saturday night that the visa policy would help in holding the next parliamentary election free and fair if the US truly implement that.
* The report was originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for English edition by Shameem Reza