'King's Party' active, ruling AL behind the scenes

Logo of Awami League and BNP

Lesser-known small parties, such as Trinamool BNP, BNF, BNM, and the Bangladesh Supreme Party, are gaining importance in the upcoming national elections. The ruling Awami League is strategising to integrate breakaway BNP leaders into these parties and encourage their participation in the elections.

Such new parties, which are being called 'King's Party' have gained traction in this political landscape. Islamic parties with backing from the ruling party are also fielding candidates. This information came from multiple sources within the Awami League. 

A senior leader of the party stated that their current objective is to ensure timely and inclusive elections with increased voter turnout. Consequently, the Awami League is actively planning for the next national election, assuming that BNP, which is pushing for a singular demand for the government's resignation, may not participate in the polls.

As part of this strategy, the government and the Awami League are mobilising some small parties to absorb BNP defectors. These parties are being referred to as 'King's Party' within the political landscape. 

BNP leaders have been expressing concerns for a while that the government is attempting to divide opposition parties by establishing so-called King’s Parties before the elections. Recently, two former BNP leaders, Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury and Taimur Alam Khandker, have assumed leadership roles in Trinamool BNP. However, these newly active parties, including Trinamool BNP, are refuting the allegations of acting as a King's Party. 

However, there is discussion among Awami League policymakers that around 100 seats may be allocated to the Jatiya Party, 14-party coalition partners, and leaders who have defected from the BNP and Islamic parties. This allocation aims to create an appearance of inclusivity in the upcoming parliamentary elections. It is also assured to provide all kind of assistance to the parties who will take part in the polls. 

The Awami League is striving to achieve a 40 to 50 per cent voter turnout in the upcoming elections. This target is intended to demonstrate both in the country and internationally that the elections were inclusive. Therefore, it is crucial to have parties and individuals with public support involved in the next election.  

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Awami League party sources emphasise that the task of engaging leaders from various Islamic parties and the BNP does not rest solely on one politician. The government is actively working in this regard, and the progress of this effort is regularly updated to three specific Ministers. 

Sources also indicate that individuals approached for the elections are being promised various benefits, either on an individual basis or for their respective parties. Some of them are requesting financial support, and assurances in that regard are being provided.

Many aspire to become public representatives, and their electoral viability is being assessed. If necessary, assurances are being given to support their candidacies. Moreover, several individuals embroiled in legal disputes are contemplating participation in the elections with assurances of future security. 

Trinamool BNP, BNF and BNM 

Sources from Trinamool BNP, BNF, and BNM indicate that a certain party is maintaining regular communication with them on behalf of the Awami League.

It has been suggested that some key leaders of BNP may also join. In such a scenario, if a new member joins, others may be asked to relinquish their positions—this message has been conveyed. 

The sources further revealed that many individuals targeted at both central and district levels of BNP were former members of parliament, although no names were disclosed. These individuals stand at the final stage of their political careers. If BNP opts to boycott the elections, they may lose the opportunity to become members of parliament.

Additionally, some of them are not favoured by BNP's top leadership or acting chairman Tarique Rahman, making their future party nominations uncertain. Several of these BNP leaders have shown interest in exploring alternatives.

Furthermore, there are emerging district-level leaders of BNP who aspire to become public representatives, implying that this possibility may be restricted if they remain with BNP. 

However, sources also mentioned that most BNP leaders prefer to take more time before making decisions. Some are inclined to consider their options further, especially after the United States announced the initiation of visa policy enforcement.

On the other hand, the Awami League is in a state of readiness. It is expected that the individuals who may break away from BNP will become clearer by the end of the next month.

Moreover, discussions are underway regarding the possibility of forming an alliance comprising Trinamool BNP, BNF, and BNM if deemed necessary. 

Three parties created from BNP 

In 2011, BNP initiated a movement following the abolition of the caretaker government system in parliament. The subsequent year saw the formation of the Bangladesh Nationalist Front (BNF). The founders were the then BNP standing committee member and former minister, Nazmul Huda, and BNP leader Abul Kalam Azad.

The party gained recognition as the 'King's Party' in 2013 after registration with the Election Commission. Initially, the party sought the election symbol 'sheaf of wheat,' similar to BNP’s 'sheaf of paddy,' but eventually settled for the television symbol.

At a later stage, Nazmul Huda was expelled by the party's chief coordinator, Abul Kalam Azad. In the 2014 polls, Abul Kalam Azad was elected as a member of parliament from the Gulshan-Banani constituency. 

BNF President Abul Kalam Azad informed Prothom Alo that they are gearing up to participate in the upcoming elections, engaging in discussions with leaders from various parties, including BNP. 

Following his departure from BNF, Nazmul Huda established two new political parties: Bangladesh National Alliance (BNA) and Bangladesh Human Rights Party (BMP). Subsequently, he founded Trinamool BNP in 2015. Nazmul Huda passed away within a week of the party's registration last February. Afterward, former BNP leader Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury and Taimur Alam Khandker assumed leadership positions within the party. 

Recently, parties like the Bangladesh Nationalist Movement (BNM) and Bangladesh Supreme Party have been registered with the Election Commission, sparking speculations. The Supreme Party is based in Chattogram and affiliated with the Maizbhandari Darbar.

As for BNM, Professor Abdur Rahman serves as its convener. He previously secured the BNP nomination for the Barguna-1 seat in the elections on 15 February 1996. Notably, the party consists of eight former army officers. 

Eyes on the Islamic parties 

After obtaining registration on 10 August, an alliance led by Supreme Party Chairman Syeed Saifuddin Ahmed emerged this month, comprising six parties. Other prominent leaders in this alliance include Bangladesh Islami Oikya Jote Chairman Misbahur Rahman Chowdhury and Islami Democratic Party Chairman MA Awal, both of whom are known to have close ties with the Awami League. They have announced their intention to participate in the election under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina. 

Sources have revealed that in addition to this, there are ongoing activities related to another alliance involving Zaker Party, Islamic Front Bangladesh, Bangladesh Islamic Front, and Bangladesh Jatiya Party (Matin). These parties are known as allies of the Awami League. 

Awami League presidium member Kamrul Islam informed Prothom Alo that BNP is expected to ultimately participate in the upcoming elections. It will be the only viable option for BNP. He also mentioned that many BNP leaders would step forward to partake in the elections if BNP decides to boycott the vote. Additionally, other Islamist parties and the Jatiya Party are set to participate in the polls. 

However, there is still no indication of a resolution regarding the ongoing political dispute concerning the electoral system. Political analysts harbor doubts regarding the credibility of the election if some parties close to or allied with the ruling party, as well as the King's Party, participate while the BNP and its associated movements abstain. 

Amid this, the Election Commission has announced that the election will take place in the first week of January next year, with the schedule expected to be released in early November. 

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat