Bangladesh has seen 10 elections till date, two of which were one-sided. One of the two was held on 15 February 1996 under the BNP government and the other on 5 January 2014 under the Awami League government. Also, the 1988 election was boycotted by most of the political parties including the Awami League and the BNP.
The other elections were more or less competitive, the most credible being four elections under neutral caretaker governments. These four elections were held, respectively, on 27 February 1991 under justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, on 12 June 1996 under justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman, in 2001 under justice Latifur Rahman, and on 29 December 2008 under Fakhruddin Ahmed.
Who won in these elections? What trends do these indicate? An analysis of such factors may help the political parties make decisions in their election and alliance politics.
In the four elections held within the span of 27 February 1991 to 29 December 2008, Awami League won in 27 constituencies each time.
These are Dinajpur-5, Sirajganj-1, Narail-2, Bagerhat0-1, Bagerhat-2, Khulna-1, Patuakhali-3, Patuakhali-4, Tangail-1, Jamalpur-3, Mymensingh-10, Kishoreganj-5, Gazipur-1, Faridpur-1, Gopalganj-1, Gopalganj-2, Gopalganj-3, Madaripur-1, Madaripur-2, Madaripur-3, Shariatpur-2, Shariatpur-3, Sunamganj-3, Maulvibazar-4, Habiganj-2, Habiganj-4 and Bandarban. One third of these seats are located in greater Faridpur. And over half (15) are located in South Bengal, including Faridpur. Awami League won these seats in the one-sided 2014 election as well.
The BNP, on the other hand, won in 18 seats in each of these four elections. These seats are Joypurhat-1, Joypurhat-2, Bogura-3, Bogura-4, Bogura-6, Bogura-7, Khulna-2, Barisal-5, Cumilla-2, Chandpur-4, Feni-1, Feni-3, Noakhali-1, Noakhali-2, Noakhali-3, Lakshmipur-1, Lakshmipur-2, and Lakshmipur-3. BNP won only 30 seats in 2008, the lowest in its history. It did not win a single seat in the 94 and 19 constituencies of Dhaka and Sylhet divisions respectively in that election. Despite this sweeping defeat, they won in only eight seats less than Awami League. The BNP’s wins were basically in Bogura, greater Cumilla and greater Noakhali.
Jatiya Party in that time saw a straight win in seven seats: Lalmonirhat 1, Rangpur 1, Rangpur 2, Rangpur 3, Kurigram 1, Kurigram 2 and Gaibandha 3. All of these straight wins for Jatiya Party were in greater Rangpur.
It is essential to look back at past election results of the major political parties in order to assess their comparative strengths. Outside of winning in 27 seats four times from 1991 to 2008, Awami League won three more seats in three times from 1991 to 2001. These were Narail-1, Faridpur-5, Chattagram-4. The Faridpur-5 seat was abolished in the constituency demarcation before the 2008 election.
In the same span of time from 1991 to 2001, BNP won thrice in 54 seats. Panchagarh-1, Bogura-1, Bogura-5, Chapainawabganj-1, Chapainawabganj-2, Naogaon-3, Naogaon-6, Rajshahi-1, Rajshahi-2, Rajshahi-5, Natore-1, Siranjganj-3, Kushtia-1, Kushtia-2, Kushtia-3, Chuadanga-1, Jhenidah-2, Jhenidah-3, Jhenidah-4, Barisal-3, Tangail-3, Tangail-6, Mymensingh-5, Kishoreganj-6, Manikganj-1, Manikganj-3, Munshiganj-1, Munshiganj-2, Munshiganj-3, Munshiganj-4, Dhaka-1, Dhaka-2, Dhaka-3, Dhaka-7, Dhaka-12, Dhaka-13, Narsingdi-1, Narsingdi-2, Narsingdi-3, Narayanganj-3, Faridpur-3, Brahmanbaria-3, Cumilla-1, Cumilla-4, Cumilla-8, Chandpur-3, Chandpur-6, Noakhali-4, Chhatagram-1, Chhatagram-5, Chattagram-8, Chattagram-10, Chattagram-11 and Chattagram-13. The Munshiganj-4 and Chandpur-6 constituencies were abolished in the demarcation before the 2008 polls.
And in this period from 1991 to 2001, Jatiya Party won in 6 seats thrice. These are Rangpur-4, Rangpur-5, Rangpur-6, Kurigram-4, Gaibandha-5 and Pirojpur-2. Only the Pirojpur-2 seat was outside greater Rangpur.
Again, from 1991 to 2001, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami won thrice in one seat, Satkhira-2.
In the 1991 election, Jamaat-e-Islami won in 18 seats, in 1996 it won 3, in 2007 it won 17 and in 2008 only 2. In 2001 and 2008, as part of the four-party alliance, Jamaat contested in the election jointly with BNP.
From past election results it is apparent that Awami League is almost unbeatable in 30 (27+3) seats. In 2008 Awami League earned this consolidated position with the support of Jatiya Party and other members of the mahajote or grand alliance.
This stronghold of Awami League is basically in South Bengal, including Gopalganj.
On the other hand, the BNP is almost unbeatable in 72 (18+54) seats. But in 2001 and 2008 their clout was consolidated by their alliance with Jamaat. Their public support is spread out in many more districts.
After the formation of the Jatiya Oikya Front unity lead by Kamal Hossain and comprising BNP, Gano Forum, Nagorik Oikya Forum and JSD (JSD-Rab), it is almost certain that General Ershad’s Jatiya Party will contest in the election as part of the Awami League-led mahajote or grand alliance. The Awami League and Jatiya Party’s number of seats won at a stretch add up to 34 (27+7). These two parties from 1991 to 2001 thrice won 9 seats (3+6), so if these two parties contest together again this time, they will secure public support in 43 (34+9) seats.
Another matter is clear. Even if the BNP joins the Oikya Front, they still remain with Jamaat as part of the 20-party alliance, though Jamaat is not registered. As a result, the BNP will only get one more seat, though they will be assisted by Jamaat’s votes in the other seats.
It is therefore clear that in the credible elections from 1991 to 2008, Awami League at a stretch of four times won more seats than BNP. Adding Jatiya Party’s seats to that, the seats won jointly by Awami League and Jatiya Party are almost twice those of BNP 34 versus 18. But if the seats won at a stretch of three times are taken into account, the BNP and its allies are much stronger than Awami League. Their comparative numbers of seats stand at 74 and 43 respectively.
Of course, there is no guarantee that past performance will be repeated in the coming elections. Things have changed over the past 10 years and Bangladesh’s politics have undergone radical changes. Despite its overwhelming public support, the BNP is facing an acute leadership crisis. Also, cases and arrests over the past 10 years have weakened the party in comparison to the ruling party. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to say whether the BNP’s huge public support will actually translate into results in the coming elections.
* Badiul Alam Majumdar is secretary of Citizens for Good Governance (SHUJON). This piece has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir