Former president AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury, who has floated a United Front to ‘end repressive rule,’ wants the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party to contest in the next general elections for less than half of 300 seats in order to ensure a balance in future power.
“We want a balance of power and to ensure that the opposition will not face repression after the elections. We want an environment of harmony and that’s why there should be restraint in exercising power. With that end in view, we’ve come up with distribution of seats at a ratio of 150:150,” he told Prothom Alo in an exclusive interview recently.
Asked why the BNP would make such sacrifice if it can alone form the government winning a majority, Badruddoza Chowdhury said the easiest alternative is to make sure that the BNP contests in the polls in less than 151 constituencies.
“We’re waiting for a response from the BNP secretary general [Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir]. He said they would come up with an alternative proposal,” he added.
B Chowdhury, now president of Bikalpadhara Bangladesh, also admitted that the BNP’s vote has increased in view of the Awami League’s ‘mistreatment’ of the BNP chief Khaleda Zia and the misrule of the government.
Even Khaleda Zia’s conviction in a graft case and possible Goebbelsian propaganda would not decrease votes in favour of her party symbol, the paddy sheaf, B Chowdhury felt.
Asked about election-time government, he insisted that there should be a kind of neutral government, be it caretaker government, to hold free and fair elections.
He even iterated the concept of poll-time government, as proposed by prime minister Sheikh Hasina before the 2014 general elections, might be used to resolve the current political impasse.
When reminded that the BNP is not in parliament now, the BDB leader said: “There is no barrier [to it if the government wants]. This parliament is not a legal one either. Two BNP candidates may be winners in by-elections and made ministers. It requires an amendment which will require 15 minutes in parliament. BKSAL (the one-party rule) was introduced in only 15 minutes.”
B Chowdhury made it clear that he himself would not contest in the elections, nor would he hold any official position such as the post of the prime minister or president. Asked whether he would join the election if the BNP ultimately boycotts it, he said there is no possibility of his being ‘leader of the opposition in parliament.’
“I want to show, understand, think, and say that at least some people want to do something for the country while reaming outside of power. I wish such people will rise to the occasion in future. I want to serve the nation,” he said about his vision for Bangladesh.
Asked who would be Bangladesh’s Mahathir Muhammad when Malaysia chose Anwar Ibrahim through electoral victory of the nonagenarian leader, the 87-year-old B Chowdhury mentioned that he wanted to study the Malaysian model and sacrifice for the nation. “If Mahathir Muhammad can show magnanimity (to admit mistakes), why can’t professor Badruddoza Chowdhury” he said in response to a question on the manner of his departure from presidency during the BNP regime.
Asked about other elements of the Jukto (United) Front he is promoting, Chowdhury said noted lawyer and Gano Forum leader Kamal Hossain might join his front, among others like ASM Abdur Rab and Mahmudur Rahman Manna.
“I have not put any conditions on joining the front. Those whoever sincerely want restoration of democracy can join United Front,” he added.
About the reasons of authoritarian rule, the former president said the government is enjoying absolute power and thus corruption has been rampant.
“The Awami League has committed so many mistakes, democracy has declined so much that the people’s right to live has become a minor issue,” he pointed out, dismissing the claims of development during the AL rule, at the cost of people’s rights. “The people want to live upholding their rights. They want to know why their sons are killed and why their daughters cannot go to school… And you buy goods worth Tk 1 for Tk 4 - that means three-fourths of the development budget money is being looted.”
Asked how United Front would perform if voted to power, B Chowdhury expressed apprehensions in case the ruling AL returns to power and even if the BNP alone wins the elections. “Unless democracy is restored despite an election that the ruling party wins by means of coercion, the limits of their power will exceed everything… If the BNP comes back, there is still other kinds of apprehension.”
* This interview, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition in verbatim form, has been rewritten in this format and in English by Khawaza Main Uddin