Any of the two - former president AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury or Gana Forum chief Kamal Hossain - may take the lead if an opposition alliance inclusive of the BNP wins the next general elections.
Saying this, Nagorik Oikyo convenor Mahmudur Rahman Manna pointed out that the greater democratic unit they are trying to forge is aimed at restoring the people’s rights and to establish collective leadership for the sake of balanced power and politics.
Nagorik Oikyo is a component of the Jukto Front or United Front initiated by Badruddoza Chowdhury and Kamal Hossain, though yet to join the Front, is in talks to forge a greater national unity to restore democracy and good governance in the country. They are also in touch with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which boycotted the previous elections in 2014 demanding poll-time administration.
Once a firebrand student leader, Manna ruled out the possibility of joining the next elections without any alliance and sitting in the opposition bench under certain terms.
“The government’s misdeeds and injustice, autocratic attitude, disappearance and extra-judicial killing and overall misrule have reached an alarming state. Plundering of resources from banking to all other sectors has reached such a proportion that, I don’t think, the government has left any scope to cling on to power,” he said in an exclusive interview with Prothom Alo.
Manna, who at one point joined the Awami League but later quit it, expressed his conviction that the use of electronic voting machine (EVM) is being planned as the incumbents have exhausted quite a number of tactics to rig polls in recent civic elections.
Referring to the ruling party’s failure in Sylhet city polls despite attempts to manipulate, the Nagorik Oikya leader pointed out that it would be difficult for the Awami League to rig the national elections to be held in 300 constituencies in a single day.
“So, the government wants to ascertain some seats by using EVM… They want to ensure victory in 100 seats through EVM and win 70-80 seats through normal process,” he added.
Asked what they would do should the BNP eventually boycott the parliamentary polls, Manna said there should be rationality for such boycott. He pointed out that the main opposition’s decision on joining polls would hinge upon whether BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia is released, if senior vice chair Tarique Rahman is convicted in 21 August grenade attack. “The party will talk to us whatever happens. So, we will take a decision in view of the situation,” he said.
The Nagorik Oikya chief mentioned that it is hardly likely that they would contest elections alone. “It’s also uncertain whether Khaleda Zia or Tarique Rahman will be able to contest in the polls. So, focus is to free the country from the clutch of autocracy, first,” he stated.
He explained that they are in talks with the BNP based on programmes including the BNP’s 10-point programmes, to make Bangladesh a welfare state.
“People in our country still consider the BNP as alternative to Awami League. A third force in politics has not been established. However, the process we have initiated has indicated that a third force is emerging,” Manna said.
He also dismissed any possibility of making alliance with the left-leaning parties. “We once were optimistic about unity with them but they no longer believe in our greater unity.”
He appreciated the concept of national unity as propagated by Gano Forum leader Kamal Hossain and said they all believe in balance in power - between parliament, the prime minister, the president, and the opposition.
“Accordingly, we are thinking about constitutional amendment,” he added.
About distribution of seats with the BNP giving the main opposition less than 150 out of 300 in case of electoral alliance, Manna made his position clear, saying that such formula might not sound realistic for a big party like the BNP. “As a result, we are giving emphasis on balance of power.”
He felt that the BNP, which is now facing tough situation, especially after conviction of Khaleda Zia, should come to understanding with the Jukto Front. He also cited the example of alliance between Malaysia’s current prime minister Mahathir Mohammad and his one-time rival Anwar Ibrahim that secured landmark electoral win recently.
Asked who would lead if they along with the BNP win polls, Manna named B Chowdhury and Kamal Hossain. “If we request them, any of them will agree to take the lead… If they don’t agree at certain point in time, those of us who would be part of the process will talk and take a decision about the leadership,” he said.
* This piece, originally published as interview text in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten as a news story in English, by Khawaza Main Uddin