Initiatives to bring BNP leaders in election individually, not the party

Flags of Awami League and BNP

Governing Bangladesh Awami League has intensified its initiatives to encourage a certain section of the leaders of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to break away from the party and contest in the upcoming 12th parliamentary elections individually. They have already targeted 60-70 leaders of the party and started communicating with them in different ways. The concerned sources of the ruling party said they hope some 40-50 leaders will respond to their persuasions.

But the Awami League is not taking any such attempt in the case of BNP.

Concerned sources of Awami League and the government informed Prothom Alo that basically their initiatives have been revolving around three types of leaders. Firstly, those who consider them as deprived or ignored and aggrieved with the top leadership; secondly, the senior leaders and former MPs who would not have physical fitness to contest in the elections later if BNP boycotts the 12th parliamentary elections; and some upcoming leaders in the district level who have interests to be an MP but have no opportunity if they stay with the BNP.

Alongside offering different types of temptations, those leaders of the BNP are being put under huge pressure by saying about filing cases, making arrests and trials.

Sources said the AL plans to help join the breakaway BNP leaders in the political parties that were given registrations recently. The parties are – Trinamool BNP, Bangladesh Nationalist Movement and Bangladesh Supreme Party. These parties have already been termed as ‘kings parties’.
The AL and government sources further said they planned to use the Bangladesh Nationalist Front (BNF) if necessary.

However, a source informed Prothom Alo that the leaders who have already responded to AL calls do not agree to join the signboard-based parties. Rather, they expressed interest in contesting as independent candidates while some have shown interest in joining the election by forming new political parties. But Awami League has so far shown less interest in leaders who are willing to form new political parties, thinking that they have been maintaining communications with AL due to pressure. The party is also considering such moves to float new parties as steps to kill time.

Besides, the sources said, the objective of the ongoing arrest spree across the country is to dissuade the grassroots leaders and activists of the BNP.

At the same time, effort will be continued to persuade some of the arrested leaders to compete in the election.

Sources further said in most of the cases the opposition leaders were not approached by political personalities, rather the communications were made through different government officials. In some cases, they were approached through relatives of Awami League leaders and cabinet members.

At the same time, some of the BNP leaders were approached through the newly formed parties as they had been informed from the governing quarter that some of the breakaway BNP leaders would join elections. Awami League, however, is yet to clarify what they would get if they contest the election except assuring that they would not have to think about the cost of the election. That is why a certain kind of uncertainty has been hanging over the process.

Two former BNP leaders, Taimur Alam Khandaker and Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, got top leadership positions joining Trinamool BNP, a party formed by another former BNP leader Nazmul Huda.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Taimur Alam Khandaker claimed that several big leaders would join the party. He declined mentioning the names saying that the process of district-level committees is going on now.

Sources from AL policymaking level said the effort is on to persuade some BNP leaders to contest the election to increase the voter turnout and prove the election a participatory one. Besides, an effort is going on behind the scenes to persuade several Islamist parties to join the elections. Along with economic assistance, some 70-100 parliamentary seats “will be given” to the breakaway BNP leaders, Islamist parties and AL allies and Jatiya Party, said the source.

Wishing not to be named, an AL leader and cabinet member told Prothom Alo that they have been discussing not to field any candidates in the seats where breakaway BNP leaders would contest. But this is yet to be finalised. Attention has been given to the BNP leaders who can beat Awami League candidates even as independent candidates if the voting is fair. The focus is on the areas where BNP’s influence is more.

The initiative is going on to communicate with the top leaders of smaller parties, which have been waging simultaneous movement with the BNP, assuring them of their win in the parliamentary election.

Speaking about the initiatives, AL joint general secretary AFM Bahauddin Nasim told Prothom Alo not all of BNP leaders do politics for carrying out clandestine attacks and setting fire (to properties).

Many of them are democratic and popular in their areas. What’s the problem if those people contest in the election? And, it is not unusual for the AL leaders to have communication with them.

He claimed that the Awami League pledged to hold a fair election. The election commission has also assured of this. Many of the BNP leaders will take part in the election relying on this.

‘Bad time’ of BNP has been chosen

AL and the government sources said the communication with the BNP leaders has been maintained for more than a year.

Almost all of them were thinking of taking a decision during any weak point of the ongoing movement. Following the violence at BNP’s mass rally at Naya Paltan on 28 October, most of the important leaders of the party are behind the bars while some have gone into hiding. Arrests are being made even at the district level. The time is being considered as a “bad time” for the BNP.

That is why the effort to persuade the leaders to leave the party has been intensified. Now the AL leaders and cabinet members have been speaking openly that many BNP leaders have been contacting them to break away from the BNP.

Addressing a rally in Dhaka on Monday, information and broadcasting minister and AL joint general secretary Hasan Mahmud said many are waiting in queue to join Trinamool (Trinamool BNP). Another party, led by current vice chairman Major (retd) Hafiz is going to be formed. They will organise a convention in Dhaka soon. As a result, even if the BNP does not contest the election, it won’t be able to stop the leaders from joining the election.

Speaking about the overall situation, AL presidium member and agriculture minister Abdur Razzaque told Prothom Alo that the election in the country will be held on time. BNP can’t stop organising the election through strikes and blockades. Rather, their leaders and activists could shun the party out of frustration.

He said, “Awami League will welcome if anyone from BNP contests the election since Awami League seeks a fair and competitive election.”

*The report, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza