In the latest example, JaPa contestant Lutfar Reza on Thursday withdrew his candidature from the by-election of Cumilla-7 (Chandina) constituency. Since then his mobile phone remained switched off. As there is no competitor of AL-nominated Pran Gopal Datta, the ruling party contestant is going to be elected uncontested in the polls to be held on 7 October.
The parliamentary seat fell vacant after the demise of AL parliamentarian professor Ali Ashraf.
For the 7 October by-election, the election commission cleared the candidature of three contestants: Pran Gopal Datta (AL), Lutfar Rahman (JaPa) and Monirul Islam (NAP).
JaPa Cumilla district unit sources said the returning officer Md Dulal Talukder invited the three contestants at his office in a tea party. Pran Gopal Datta and Monirul Islam attended the tea party but Lutfar Rahman skipped the event, showing personal reason. Lutfar left his election area for Dhaka.
In Dhaka, the JaPa contestant sat in a meeting with a Cumilla-based AL parliamentarian, a source said. After the meeting, he withdrew his candidature. Later, the NAP contestant Monirul Islam followed Lutfar’s step, showing a family reason. A gossip surfaced across the local arena that financial benefits might have instigated withdrawal of their candidatures.
Talking about the issue, JaPa’s south Cumilla unit convener Iar Ahmed Selim said, "I was with Lutfar Reza at the returning officer's office while he was submitting his nomination paper. After scrutiny of nomination papers, Lutar said pressures were mounting upon him to quit the election. I said let me know their names. Later, I found Lutfar’s phone switched off."
Commenting on the two contestants’ withdrawal of their candidature, AL contestant Pran Gopal Datta told Prothom Alo, “NAP contestant Monirul was my student. That is why he withdrew himself from the election race. And the JaPa contestant informed me earlier that he would not run for the election in case I contest. They were neither threatened nor financially benefited.”
JaPa contestants for Dhaka-14 and Cumilla-5 constituencies also withdrew candidacy during the July by-elections. AL contestants Aga Khan and Abul Hashem Khan respectively won the by-elections uncontested. JaPa contestants allegedly quit the contests in exchange of money.
Some JaPa organisers said the party investigated its nominees’ unilateral withdrawal of candidacy from the by-elections for the Dhaka-14 and Cumilla-5 seats.
Although the probe did not find absolute proof, there were allegations of taking financial benefits by the JaPa contestants. The party also has started investigation on the latest withdrawal of candidacy for the Cumilla-7 by-election.
JaPa additional secretary general Rezaul Islam Bhuiyan, member of the probe body that investigated the Cumilla-5 case, recently told Prothom Alo that the investigation found Lutfar sat with local leaders of AL in at least two meetings at the Brahmanpara upazila chairman’s bungalow and a coffee house in Mainamoti. Finally, Lutfar negotiated with the ruling party leaders.
Rezaul Islam Bhuiyan said, “We noted statements of 27 people. They said that they heard about the negotiation. But they had not witnessed the event.”
JaPa sources said Md Jasim Uddin, JaPa contestant for Cumilla-5 by-election, withdrew his candidature in the presence of AL contestant Abul Hasem Khan. That day, he told journalists, “Amid the Covid pandemic, local people requested me not to contest. He (Awami League contestant) is a senior citizen. That is why I quit the by-election.”
JaPa policy makers, however, are going to be strict against its contestants who withdrew election candidacy without informing the party. On Friday, JaPa expelled Lutfar Reza from the party. He was JaPa vice chairman as well as Cumilla north unit convener. JaPa also abolished the Cumilla north unit committee. Earlier, Dhaka-14 by-election contestant Mostaqur Rahman and Cumilla-5 by-election contestant Jasim Uddin were expelled from the party. Despite such of the disciplinary actions, unilateral withdrawal of candidacy cannot be checked.
In December 2019, JaPa first quit a by-election for the Chattogram-8 constituency by withdrawing candidacy of Ziauddin Ahmed, presidium member of JaPa. The seat fell vacant after the demise of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal leader Mainuddin Khan Badal. The AL contestant Moslem Uddin Ahmed won the by-election.
That time, a JaPa press release said that Ziauddin Ahmed had already been given crucial responsibilities to make the national conference a success. The party thought JaPa leaders should be more organisation-oriented to make JaPa strong rather than running for the by-election. Considering the fact, JaPa had decided to withdraw candidature for the Chattogram-8 by-election.
The trend of withdrawing election candidacy by JaPa contestants started during the 2018 national elections. In that 11th national election, AL-led alliance nominee and JaPa contestant Mohammad Noman withdrew his candidacy for Lakshmipur-2 parliamentary seat, allegedly after taking financial benefits.
A gossip was surfaced in the locality that Noman took Tk 120 million (12 crore) from the independent contestant Shahid Islam. Later, JaPa expelled Noman from the party. Shahid got elected in that election.
Shahid is now in a Kuwait jail as he has been convicted in human trafficking and money laundering cases. Bangladesh government cancelled Shahid’s membership of parliament. On 21 June, Lakshmipur-2 by-election was held. AL contestant Nuruddin Chowdhury Nayan won the by-election. JaPa posted Sheikh Mohammad Faiz Ullah as its contestant for the parliamentary seat.
Some JaPa leaders said AL contestant Nuruddin too tried to move the JaPa contestant away from the election race. Nuruddin talked to JaPa secretary general Ziauddin Ahmed at the party headquarters in this regard. But Ziauddin refused to entertain Nuruddin.
Atiqur Rahman, the JaPa contestant for the Sylhet-3 by-election kept competing with Awami League contestant Habibur Rahman till the election day on 4 September. Atiqur, with the election symbol ‘plough’, could grab 24,752 votes finally.
JaPa chairman GM Quader told Prothom Alo that contestants withdrew their candidacy and later alleged that they were threatened to do it. There were some proofs also. Opponent contestants might be scary. A candidate gets the party nomination upon consideration of external threats. No party contestant can withdraw candidacy without permission. JaPa took organisational measures against the contestants who had escaped from the election race.
However, some JaPa leaders observed that Awami League leaders and contestants become aggressive for victory prior to any election. They want to win the election at any cost, whether by showing threats or luring the opponents of financial benefits. This is a bad omen for the country’s democracy.
Talking about the issue, GM Quader said voters are losing trust over election due to the bad practices. People will not put trust upon political parties if no election is held properly. If the undemocratic practices go on unabated, politics will be extinct from the country.
*The original report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman.