Keeping the next national parliament elections in view, the ruling Awami League has planned to use the 14-party allies to contest in the polls separately if BNP and others of the opposition camp boycott the elections, party insiders have said.

Awami League, however, wants to keep the 14-party alliance within its fold.

Even though there is still over one and a half years left for the Jatiya Sangsad election, it has informed the 14-party allies that Awami League will contest in the election as an alliance.

The ruling party wants to ensure that none of the allies side with the opposition alliance.

Almost three years after the last general election, the head of the 14-Party alliance and prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, on 15 March met with leaders of the alliance.

She assured the allies that they would contest in the next election as an alliance. After that, during Awami League's working committee meeting on 7 May, Sheikh Hasina reiterated that they would contest in the polls as an alliance.

According to sources, the ruling Awami League is endeavouring to pull other parties of the left-leaning camp outside of the 14-party, into the alliance. If that is not possible, the ruling party will try to reach an election understanding with them to at least keep them away from any anti-government movement.

Awami League also wants to ensure that even if BNP and other opposition parties boycott the election, the left parties will participate in the polls. The government has had to face harsh criticism for winning 153 seats uncontested in the 2014 election. It does not want to face this predicament again this time.

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However, certain leaders of the 14-party alliance have said that even though Awami League is assuring them about contesting in the election as an alliance, the allies have no say whatsoever in policymaking issues or the political process. Also, Awami League has not made it clear what situation will arise if BNP and other opposition parties decide to boycott the election.

They are also mulling over what to do if, at the last moment, they are told to play the role of the opposition. In such circumstance, they are focusing on strengthening their respective parties. They are keeping both possibilities in mind -- joining the election as an alliance or separately.

Sources within the 14-party have said even though they have been assured of joining the election as an alliance, they are continuing with their criticism of the high prices of essential and the government's corruption. The allies, in the coming days, will also call for the election commission to be strengthened and for free and fair elections. They have adopted this strategy so as to gain importance in the opposition camp too, just in case they contest in the polls separately or have to leave the alliance.

However, Awami League presidium member and agriculture minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque has expressed his hope that BNP and the other parties will take part in the election.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, Awami League will join the election as an alliance. If BNP decides to boycott the election, a decision will be taken when the situation arises.

Why Awami League wants to keep the alliance intact

The anti-government parties, including BNP, are making an effort to expand their alliance and create issue-based allies. Meanwhile, there are no partners among 14-party allies within the present government. After the national election in 2018, the alliance's political programmes have more or less come to a halt. As a result, the allies became quite vocal in their criticism of the election system, the irregularities, the government's corruption and failure. Under such circumstances, Awami League grew apprehensive about any of the allies shifting over to the opposition camp.

Within just a month, the fall of the Rajapaksa government was accelerated. That is why it is hard to predict which direction Bangladesh politics takes before the next election

According to Awami League sources, most of the 14-party allies do not have any organisational strengthen worth mention. In certain cases these allies are given importance for political reasons. For example, almost all the allies of the 14-party are progressive parties and believe in the spirit of the liberation war. Most of these parties are old and have importance in political and social spheres.

If BNP boycotts

Allies of the 14-party have said there is talk over the possibility of BNP boycotting the election as it will not lose its registration if it does not join the polls this time. This situation has placed two challenges before the government. Firstly, keeping its own alliance intact. Secondly, bringing as many parties as possible to the election.

A top leader of the 14-party, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo, the election is still a far way off. Many things can happen within this time. It will be important to see how the local and foreign quarters view the election if the opposition, including BNP, decides to boycott the polls.

Another senior leader of the alliance said, autocrat HM Ershad couldn't be toppled even after seven years of movement. But towards the end, the circumstances changed rapidly and Ershad was toppled. Even with a huge majority, the Rajapaksa government could not remain in power in Sri Lanka. Within just a month, the fall of the Rajapaksa government was accelerated. That is why it is hard to predict which direction Bangladesh politics takes before the next election.

Expanding the alliance, election-time government and seat sharing

Sources within the 14-party have said that Awami League behind the scenes is attempting to expand its alliance. The alliance members haven't been informed of this officially as yet. Then again, there will be an election-time government and it is not sure whether the allies will be included in this or not. Though they contested in the last three elections as an alliance, no one got nomination other than Workers Party, Jasad, Jatiya Party (JP) and Tarikat Federation. Given these circumstances, JSD under Sharif Nurul Ambia has almost left the alliance and is not joining in any of its programmes. Some of the persons deprived in the last election are hoping to be nominated this time.

An Awami League leader, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that the allies were unhappy at not being given any place in the present government. The situation in the next election may be even more complicated. At the same time, it is important to keep the alliance intact.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, 14-party ally and president of Workers Party, Rashed Khan Menon, said they had received assurance that the elections would be contested as an alliance. However, before the election certain political issues needed to be sorted out.

However, the election may be held, Rashed Khan Menon was placing importance on strengthening his party.