Awami League plans to put BNP in an unsettled condition

Flag of Awami LeagueProthom Alo illustration

The Awami League is eying several targets with its decision to not allow the party’s electoral symbol in the forthcoming local government elections, including the upazila parishad.

The governing party is openly speaking about curbing the infighting, which has arisen due to its decision to allow independent candidates alongside the party nominated one’s in the recently concluded 12th parliamentary elections. But the AL is planning to throw the opposition parties, including the BNP, that boycotted the parliamentary election in a ‘trap’.

It is unclear whether BNP, the key opposition party, would take part in the local government elections or not. Many of the party’s leaders, however, are likely to contest the upazila and city corporation elections as independent candidates, in case the party decides to boycott this election too.

Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami has also not taken any decision of contesting the upazila parishad elections. However, the Jatiya Party will take part in the voting as the party is an ally of the governing Awami League.

AL sources said voting in the city corporations, upazila parishad and other local government elections will be held over the next one year. If the BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and other opposition parties contest the elections, it would be impossible for them to mobilise an anti-government movement anew.

Besides, if the opposition parties boycott the elections, their leaders will join in the fray on their own. This might lead the party to take actions against them for violating the party’s decision, which will make the party weaker at the grassroots. This is the thought of the AL leaders.

The AL sources also revealed that the party’s grassroots is happy with the decision of not allowing party symbol as they will not have to spend money and engage in activities to ensure the “boat”. This has opened a scope for the party’s most popular and active leaders to come out as winners.

Wishing not to be named, a central AL leader told Prothom Alo that they have adopted the decision of not giving the “boat” symbol in the local government election after much thought. There is a broader objective beyond the interests of Awami League as a political party, the source added.

Voter turnout also a target

AL nominated candidates with “boat” symbol won as chairman in 320 upazilas out of 473 in the last Upazila Parishad Election took place in 2019.

Of them, 115 were elected uncontested. Another 136 independent candidates, who were elected as chairmen, almost all of them were leaders and supporters of the Awami League.

Several influential cabinet members and MPs reportedly exerted pressure on competing candidates, aiming to facilitate the victory of their preferred candidates. This tactic led to many candidates winning uncontested, drawing harsh criticism both domestically and internationally, according to sources within the AL.

Wishing not to be named, a upazila chairman in Khulna told Prothom Alo it is the partymen who engage in attempts to beat a candidate with “boat” symbol, which leads to rift within the party. That is why it is better not to have the party symbol.

The Awami League tried to stop uncontested wins and ballot stamping. Though this attempt resulted in a smaller voter turnout, it bore positive results in terms of stopping criticisms. The party policymakers think if the trend of uncontested wins and ballot stamping returns in the local government elections.

This was also considered in not allowing the use of party symbol in the elections.

Noakhali district Awami League general secretary Shahid Ullah Khan stated to Prothom Alo the elections would be more competitive because of this decision of not distributing the party symbol to any one candidate. This will also increase voter turnout.

He lauded the decision as a wise one.

Grassroots happy

There is a discussion within the Awami League that rich people secure chairman and members posts in the local government institutions if the election takes place along party lines.

Wishing to remain anonymous, several central and district level leaders of the party told Prothom Alo that the rich people would consider getting the “boat” symbol as guarantee of victory, which led to the allegation of “nomination business”. As a result, the active and relatively not so well of leaders and activists were not getting scope of contesting in the election.

This decision will stop the trend, they think.

The central policymakers think infiltration within the party has increased due to the decision of allowing party symbol in the holding local government elections. 

The election commission said though the political parties can decide to not allow use of their electoral symbols in the election even though this is not there in the law.

AL joint general secretary Bahauddin Nasim was vocal against distribution of party symbol in the local government election.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Wednesday, he said, “There was an aim so that no rift appears in the party. Besides, if the local leaders of the BNP want to contest the election, they will not have to wait for the party’s decision.”

Uncertainty over the oppositions

Following the boycott of parliamentary election BNP has not yet discussed about the upazila parishad elections at any level of the party. That is why this is not clear whether they  would take part in the elections or not.

BNP standing committee member Nazrul Islam Khan acknowledged to Prothom Alo on Wednesday night that they have not yet discussed the party’s stance on upazila parishad election.

However, some of the party’s leaders said they are in a tight corner over the emerging situation. Both participation and boycotting have been creating an embarrassing situation for them, they expressed.

The BNP policymakers are now caught in a cleft stick over participation and boycotting the election as their contesting the upazila parishad election would provide a certain kind of acknowledgement of the government, formed through the 7 January election. At the same time, boycotting polls one after another might affect the grassroots level negatively.

Some of them, however, are in favour of joining the election for two reasons - firstly this would provide a scope to reorganise the party and secondly, the central committee has not spoken of any movement before the month of Ramadan.

Jamaat-e-Islami on 20 January held a meeting of its Majlish-e-Shura, the highest policy making body of the party, which opined in favour of continuing the movement.

Jamaat Amir’s political adviser Ashraf Ali Akon told Prothom Alo, “People have rejected this government by not casting their ballots in the parliamentary election. If we join the election now, the people’s anger towards the government will decrease and this will raise a question on political acknowledgement of this government. That is why we will not contest the upazila parishad election.”

A central leader of the party, however, informed Prothom Alo that they would take a decision on the Upazila Parishad Election after consulting the field level leaders.

Meanwhile, Islami Andolan Bangladesh leaders said they have been thinking of boycotting the local government election as they did the parliamentary election.

They also said their experience in the last city corporation election and union parishad election is not good.