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Ruling Awami League feels that even if BNP does not join the election, if the voter turnout can be increased, this will make the election appear credible at home and abroad

Awami League is preparing its plans for the 12th Jatiya Sangsad election, on the assumption that BNP will not contest in it as a party. The bottom line of the ruling party’s election strategy is to ensure as big a voter turnout as possible. Awami League policymakers feel that if they can ensure a large voter turnout, this will make the election appear credible at home and abroad.

According to Awami League sources, the plan is to carry out the forthcoming parliamentary election much on the lines of five city corporation elections held on May and June this year. In other words, while BNP will not join in the election, attempts will be made to lure elements away from the party and contest in the polls.

Whose participation are you talking about? To me, participation means the participation of the people. If the people can vote, whoever wins through those votes will form the government
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina

Awami League will also encourage its allies and Islamic parties to take part in the election. It will generate funds and use its organisational power as well as the support of various organs of the government to ensure highest possible voter turnout.

However, Awami League leadership also realise that BNP and its allies may rise up to resist the national election. Accordingly, the law enforcement has been given full freedom to tackle this matter. Many leaders of BNP will be arrested and sentenced before the election. And so it will not be difficult to control the situation, Awami League leaders feel.

This strategy of Awami League is evident in the reply given by prime minister Sheikh Hasina to a question about inclusive elections, during a press conference held on 30 August at Ganabhaban. The prime minister retorted, “Whose participation are you talking about? To me, participation means the participation of the people. If the people can vote, whoever wins through those votes will form the government.”

The assessment within Awami League regarding the election is that they have been in power for a 15-year stretch and the new voters who have emerged in that span of time haven’t really been able to vote. That is why this section of the population has no interest in voting. It will not be easy to bring them to the polling centres. But all-out effort will be made.

The turnout in all elections has been poor after the ninth parliamentary polls held in 2018. Hardly any voters turned up even for the local government election or the parliamentary by-elections. Also, candidates of Awami League and its allies were election uncontested in 153 seats in the 2014 election. Awami League will make an effort this time to prevent such uncontested winning.

In the 11th parliamentary election held in 2018, Awami League and allies secured 90 per cent of the seats even though all parties contested. The party policymakers want to ensure that is not repeated this time. That is why they will ensure scope for their allies, Islamic parties and BNP defectors to win.

An Awami League leader, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that there is no problem in holding a free and fair election if BNP doesn’t contest. Awami League doesn’t need to win 270 seats. Just 170 to 180 seats are enough. Let the others bag the rest. If the voter turnout can be increased and a peaceful election held for Awami League to form the government, that is enough.

Awami League has taken certain visible measures to encourage voters to vote this time. This includes the ‘Road to Smart Bangladesh’ that started on Monday from the party’s central office on Bangabandhu Avenue. Local campaign workers will be elected in every ward of the country. Trainers and mentors have been recruited to train them. Over 200 master trainers have been selected from all over the country and a workshop has begun.

The chief coordinator of Awami League’s central election conducting committee and former cabinet secretary Kabir Bin Anwar is the initiator of this programme. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “It is up to BNP whether they come to the election or not. But we have started preparing for the election in full swing. The objective of the training programme is bring the voters to the polling centres, even if we have to plead with them. We will approach every voter and highlight the achievement of the government.”

He said that Awami League has its own votes and well as those of the beneficiaries. They will come to vote if they can be convinced properly. He said this was proven in the recent city corporation elections.

Targetting known faces in the opposition

The party leaders are confident that Awami League’s long-standing ally Jatiya Party (JaPa) will join the election. Even if JaPa chairman GM Quader is unwilling, a large section of the party will join the election. And there are the 14 party allies too.

Outside of that, Awami League will target elements within BNP, to lure them to the election. They are keeping watch on locally influential and known leaders, outside of those at the centre. There are BNP leaders at a district and upazila level who will win the election on their own strength if the election is free and fair. It was in this calculation that Awami League had encouraged Ukil Abdus Sattar to defect from BNP and contest in the Brahmanbaria by-election as an independent candidate. All out measures were taken to ensure he won. Similar measures will be taken in the national election.

Meanwhile, two former BNP leaders – Taimur Alam Khandakar and Shamsul Mobin Chowdhury – are joining Trinamool BNP, formed by the late Nazmul Huda. They will be at the helm of the party’s leadership and, it is heard, there are several others within BNP who are party to this. Awami League has long been attempting to split BNP by means of this party.

Outside of this, the election commission has registered a new party under the name of BNM. This totally unknown party is headed by two former BNP leaders. There is talk of attempts being made to use this party too, to draw more elements out of BNP.

Several Islamic parties will also join the election. Many are trying to form alliance and Awami League is reportedly behind these moves.

The ruling party will try to draw in many BNP leaders from the grassroots and district level to join the election even if BNP does not contest in the national election. Islamic parties will also be lured in.

Not the same faces as people’s reps

During the extended stretch of Awami League in power, the same party and the same faces have appeared time and again as people’s representatives. There are widespread allegations that they have nothing new to offer. People are losing interest in voting in the same ministers and member parliament. Grassroots Awami League leaders made this clear when they met with prime minister Sheikh Hasina at Ganabhaban. They urged for new faces to be nominated. They felt if candidates were changed, this may restore enthusiasm among the people.

In this light, Awami League policymakers are considering big changes in nomination. Party sources say, the six latest surveys on candidates for the upcoming national parliamentary election are being scrutinised. The scrutiny of these surveys indicates 103 ministers and MPs have low scores. Under the circumstances, many ministers and MPs may be dropped from the coming election, feel several of the party’s top leaders.

In the 2018 election to the 11th national parliament, 56 ministers and MPs were not given nomination. In the 10th national parliament held in 2014, a total of 49 MPs were dropped, including six ministers and state ministers.

Meanwhile, 26 Awami League members of the 11th parliament passed away. With an exception of three or four seats, new faces were nominated to the vacated seats, rather than family members of the deceased. This has people guessing that new faces are being given more importance in nominations.

City election model

Elections to five important city corporation elections took place in May-June this year. Ruling Awami League wants to take these elections as models, as regards voter turnout, contest and environment. The party will follow this city corporation ‘model’ in the forthcoming national election.

The five city corporations where the elections took place are Gazipur, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet and Barishal. As a party, BNP officially declared a boycott of these elections. But some leaders of the party took part in the mayoral elections and there were BNP and even Jamaat-e-Islami candidates in the councilors posts. No one won as mayor, but several from BNP became councilors.

The ruling party will try to draw in many BNP leaders from the grassroots and district level to join the election even if BNP does not contest in the national election. Islamic parties will also be lured in. This will serve to increase voter turnout. The main responsibility of the government is to maintain law and order. The environment at the last city corporation elections had been peaceful and so the voter turnout was higher.

In the Gazipur city corporation election, there had been a 58 per cent voter turnout. The Awami League candidate Azmat Ullah Khan there was defeated by former mayor Jahangir Alam’s mother Zayeda Khatun. It is felt that the anti-government and BNP supporters’ votes went in favour of Zayeda Khatun.

In Rajshahi city, 56 per cent of the votes were cast. There was no strong contender there other than Awami League’s candidate for the post of mayor. But there were many BNP and Jamaat candidates for the posts of councilor. There were several mayoral candidates in Sylhet, Barishal and Khulna. The voter turnout in Sylhet was 47 per cent. In Barishal it was 51.46 per cent. In Khulna it was 48 per cent. However, voters were hardly visible in the Khulna election and contesting candidates questioned the veracity of the voter turnout figures.

Awami League leadership wants to ensure a 50 per cent voter turnout in the forthcoming national election. If they can do that, they will not have to face credibility questions from international quarters after the election.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Awami League presidium member and agriculture minister Abdur Razzak said, Awami League is preparing for the election in full swing. Party chief Sheikh Hasina is working in candidate selection. He said that the forthcoming election will be free and fair and so the voter turnout will be good.