BNP considers upazila election a trap

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Although BNP is yet to take any decision to participate in the upcoming upazila parishad election, many of its grassroots leaders are reportedly interested to contest in the polls. The interested BNP leaders are now waiting for the party’s decision but BNP top brass is yet to take any.

BNP leaders see this election as a ‘trap’ for them as they think participating in this election would somehow weaken the controversy and question over the last general election. And they think the government would also start a campaign that BNP has made a mistake by not participating in the last parliamentary elections.

BNP leaders said the party in principle took a decision about not joining the upazila polls. But it is not clear as to how tough action the party would take if any leaders of the party join the polls.  Meanwhile, BNP senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi on 4 March told a programme in Bogura that the party would boycott the upazila polls. He maintained that organisational actions would be taken if anyone joins the election violating the party’s decision.

Although the party is yet to make any formal announcement about the election, many of the party have taken Rizvi’s comments seriously. They think Rizvi would not have made such a remark without the cognizance of the party's top leadership.

This correspondent talked with five BNP leaders from the standing committee, joint secretary general and organising secretary level. They assessed the situation in different ways. Some of them think BNP should join the polls for the sake of retaining its grassroot leaders and popularity.

But the majority of the BNP leaders consider the election as a ‘trap’. They think the government has taken the decision not to hold under party symbols for two reasons. The first one is bringing the BNP to polls after it boycotted the national election. The government might think that bringing BNP to the upazila polls would somewhat mitigate the questions and controversies regarding the ‘one-sided’ national election. If BNP joins the polls, then the ruling party would get a chance to show BNP’s boycott of the national polls as a mistake.

According to the BNP leaders, the other strategy of the ruling party is the party thinks holding the upazila election under the party symbol might cause the defeat of ruling party candidates to the independent candidates of the party. The Awami League’s infighting at grassroots level came to the fore during the last general election as the party opened the electoral fields for the party’s independent candidates due to BNP’s boycott. A total of 62 independent candidates of the ruling party won the 12th general election vying against the party nominated candidates. The ruling party might have taken the decision not to hold the upazila election under party symbol to prevent recurrence of such defeat.

They also think that the ruling party has taken up this strategy to entice BNP to join the polls. BNP would not do well in the election due to the ruling party’s strategy whereas its moral standing would be debilitated as it has long been boycotting any election under this government.

Decision to boycott polls still in place

BNP has been boycotting all elections since 2021 after it took the decision not to join any polls under the AL government. Since then, the party suspended many leaders who participated in local government elections including in city corporation and upazila polls. It has been learnt that the BNP still holds that stance. BNP did not participate in the by-election for the post of mayor of Comilla City Corporation held on 9 March. Two former leaders of the party-- Monirul Haque (Sakku) and Mohammad Nizamuddin (Kaiser)—contested that election. These two were expelled from the party for contesting Comilla city polls in 2022. Their expulsion order has not been revoked yet.

As far as I know, BNP still upholds its previous decision. I don’t have any knowledge about any change to that decision
Ruhul Kabir Rizvi

Asked about BNP’s decision, Rizvi told Prothom Alo, “As far as I know, BNP still upholds its previous decision. I don’t have any knowledge about any change to that decision.”

Joining polls to weaken ‘moral position’

Policy-making leaders of the BNP say that the reasons why the BNP did not participate in the 7 January parliamentary elections still exist. So, if the party participates in the upazila elections after boycotting the parliamentary elections, the 'moral position' of BNP will be politically weakened. Those who responded to the BNP’s call to boycott the parliamentary election will not welcome the party’s participation in the upazila polls. Moreover, BNP is not in a situation to go to the polls at the moment. Thousands of leaders and activists have been financially destroyed due to lawsuits and imprisonment.

A source of BNP’s top brass said the issue of the upazila polls was discussed during the meeting of party’s acting chairman Tarique Rahman with divisional organising secretaries and assistant organising secretaries.

A source of BNP’s top brass said the issue of the upazila polls was discussed during the meeting of party’s acting chairman Tarique Rahman with divisional organising secretaries and assistant organising secretaries.

During the meeting, almost all the leaders of the party opined for boycotting the upcoming upazila polls. BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir also joined the meeting. Later the upazila election issue was discussed in the meeting of the party's standing committee too.

Standing committee, which is the highest decision making body of the party, decided to take the decision later on after further discussion.

None from BNP’s policymaking level leaders wanted to speak about the issue. A member of the standing committee, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo, “Many might wish to take part in the election but how can we join! We boycotted the election that changes the government but how can we now join other elections.”

Decision likely on Monday

The BNP standing committee will hold its regular meeting on Monday. Before the meeting, BNP’s secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is returning home today, after spending 18 days abroad. BNP’s policy makers said some important decisions including participation in  upazila parishad election are likely to be taken in presence of the secretary general. Election Commission has already declared the schedule of the upazila polls.

Elections to 152 upazilas would go to polls in the first phase on 8 May. So, the party leaders-activists are needed to be informed about the decision regarding the polls now.

Chuadanga district BNP’s member secretary Md Sharifuzzaman told Prothom Alo, “BNP leaders-activists are always mentally prepared to join the electoral fray. Our party has many competent leaders. But the party’s decision comes first. Not a single person would join the polls without the party’s decision.”