In the eleventh Jatiya Sangsad that is controlled by the ruling party's absolute majority, BNP's member of parliament Harunur Rashid is one of the very few opposition members who has caught attention by his lively debate in the House and discussions on issues of national importance. He is a joint secretary general of the party and had been elected in the sixth, seventh and eights parliamentary elections too. In an interview with Prothom Alo, he speaks about BNP's role as an opposition party in parliament, the party's ongoing movement and the next Jatiya Sangsad election.
You all have demanded that the party chief Khaleda Zia be allowed to go abroad for treatment. BNP has launched a movement to this end too. But the government is not acquiescing. What will you all do now?
Not allowing her to go abroad for treatment is inhuman, malicious and vengeful. If anything unfortunate happens to Begum Khaleda Zia, the government must take the liability. Our movement continues.
The BNP members of parliament formed a human chain in front of the Jatiya Sangsad. You all said that that you will resign if the government does not give in to your demands. Was that just an empty threat or will you actually resign?
That was no an empty threat. We are doing all we can within the parliament and outside. If the government does not agree to our justified demands, our members of parliament will discuss with the party and among ourselves, and then take a decision.
You faced a volley of criticism in parliament when you praised the Pakistani cricket team. Was there any need for you to praise them during this golden jubilee of independence? Is this an acknowledgement that Awami League is pro-Indian and BNP is pro-Pakistan?
It is not like that. The Bangladesh-Pakistan cricket game is on. Pakistan has been invited by Bangladesh. Offensive behaviour on the grounds is not acceptable. During the football World Cup when Argentina and Brazil play, the fans of both teams wave their flags and wear their jerseys all over the country. No one has any problem with that.
You all claim that the votes were cast on the night of 30 December 2018. So are you too an MP elected by votes at night?
There has been an abundance of reports in the print and electronic media about the 2018 election. The 30 December 2018 election did not win credibility nationally or internationally. It was a farce of election where votes were robbed. In the six seats where BNP won, the ballot boxes were not stuffed with votes on the night before. That was a part of Awami League's strategy. The country is in the grips of an authoritarian rule. There is a sort of unwritten prohibition on opposition politics. A rule of fear reigns in the country.
What is BNP's present stance concerning Jamaat-e-Islami? While the other allies of the 20 party alliance are visible in the movement for Khaleda Zia to be freed, Jamaat remains silent. Does that mean Jamaat has lost faith in BNP?
The 20 party alliance is an election alliance. Since there is no election, there are no meetings and gatherings and that is why the alliance has no activities. The malicious and repressive actions towards the opposition, the autocratic behavior, has outdone all past autocratic rulers.
Awami League leaders say that you are making a political issue out of Khaleda Zia's treatment. They have advised that physicians be brought in from abroad for her treatment. Why aren't you doing so?
What Awami League is doing regarding Begum Khaleda Zia's treatment is not good at all. Why will BNP make a political issue out of her treatment? Isn't Begum Zia critically ill? If bringing physicians from abroad would be an answer to treatment, why do our MPs and ministers rush out of the country the moment they sneeze or cough? This proposal of the government is nothing but a move to deprive Begum Zia of treatment.
According to political analysts, you all did not take part in the 2014 election which you should have. And yet you took part in this 2018 election which should have been boycotted. Do you think both the decisions were a mistake? If not, what is your explanation?
I do not see it like that. By means of the 15th amendment, the government abolished the caretaker government system and grabbed power. By not participating in the 2014 elections, there were no elections in the country. MPs won uncontested in 154 seats and the voting in the other seats was mere eyewash. In the 2018 elections, the votes were cast on the night before. It was a farce in the name of an election. The election system, democracy and the rule of law is in dire straits. The people have developed a serious lack of confidence in the country's constitutional institutions. This does not bode well for the country at all.
The 2018 elections were a stiff challenge for BNP. Even so, there was reportedly a lot of 'business' in the nomination process, as alleged by the candidates. This was even reported in the media. Why was this so?
BNP took part in the 2018 elections under extremely adverse circumstances. Several candidates were nominated for every seat because the government was using the slightest excuse to reject the candidature of qualified candidates. That is why alternative candidates were kept ready. While many have called this "nomination business", this allegation is not correct.
The BNP chairperson is unwell and also convicted in a corruption case. The acting chairman of the party is also convicted and out of the country. So who is running the party?
There is no problem in running the party. The party's acting chairman, the standing committee and the senior leaders are holding discussions, meeting and running the party.
You all accuse the government of attacks, cases, imprisonment and repression. But when BNP was in power in the 2001-2006 term, did they not do the same? Have you done any introspective self-criticism about the rule of your government at that time?
None of us ever learn from history. A rule of terror reigns in the country at present. Democracy, the rule of law and the election system have all been pitched into a deep crisis. While there are allegations of imprisonment and repressions against all governments, the present extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, abductions, corruption, spread of drugs and politics have taken on horrendous proportions. The nation must unite to be freed of this situation.
How ready is BNP for the 2023 election? You all have said that the next election must be held under a non-partisan government. If the government does not agree, what will you do? Will you boycott the elections like in 2014 or go ahead to join the election under a partisan government as in 2018?
Given the national elections of 2014 and 2018, as well as the various local government elections, the people have lost all confidence in the election system. It is in no way possible to hold a fair election under this election commission and the present government. In my personal opinion, the question of taking part in a national election under a partisan government in 2023 does not arise.
You were sentenced by the lower court for importing a duty-free car and then selling it off. Many other MPs have done this too. How many have been punished? You appealed and were granted bail, but your party chief was not granted bail. You all say the government has held up her bail. So was it the government who allowed you to get bail and carry out your duties as an MP? What do you say?
There is no provision to send any MP to jail if he or she transfers or sells a vehicle that has been imported duty free. The National Board of Revenue (NBR) can impose taxes for this. I do not know of any MP other than myself being jailed for this. Both my sentence and my bail have been at the will of the government. Begum Zia's sentence, and her not getting bail, is also at the behest of the government.
Thank you too