With another general election scheduled for next year, no one is sure whether the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the country’s main political opposition, will take part. The BNP seems adamant about not contesting any elections, as has mostly been the case in the past 13 years of the Awami League-led government in power. The BNP’s assertion is simple: there can never be free and fair elections under the current partisan government.
In fairness, the claim is pretty straightforward for one of the two main political parties in a country where nonpartisan caretaker governments holding elections have been the norm in the past. The BNP wants the current government to entrust decision-making functions during elections to a “neutral” administration, which the ruling party refuses to do, for fear of a repeat of 1/11. As a result, the opposing stance of the two political parties on a neutral government at the time of the polls probably became the longest political stalemate in Bangladesh’s history.
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No matter how adamant the BNP seems now, the party contested the last general election under the current government four years ago after much drama. For the most part, they continued to defend the same program: no elections under the partisan government in place. But, in what is widely described as a last-minute move, they went to the polls in 2018 and, understandably, the result was disastrous: the BNP won just six seats in a tainted election. widespread voting allegations. – rigging and engineering. This time around, however, the party seems to have learned from its mistakes and does not seem likely to make a hasty decision again. Interestingly, the last time the BNP went to an election under a caretaker government, almost 14 years ago, the results were almost as disastrous: they managed to win roughly a quarter of the 300 seats in parliament.
So, having known both the boycott (2014) and the struggle (2018) during the elections under the current partisan government, and having come out of it with a bitter taste in the mouth each time, one wonders: the BNP can he really afford another electoral boycott? Can the party survive in the long term if it continues to boycott the elections?
There are no simple answers to these questions. Everything the BNP has attempted over the past 14 years has mostly failed. They staged violent street protests several times, which resulted in loss of life and property and only caused severe beatings at home and abroad, but could not prevent the Awami League to hold elections.
A line of thinking within the party – endorsed mostly by veteran leaders who have been around since the party was born – is to find a place of compromise and join the polls. Their past experience indicates that the current government is extremely unlikely to change the constitution to restore the caretaker system of government. Thus, the best option for the BNP would be to have peaceful political negotiations to find common ground and a way out of the longest “power hiatus” in the party’s history by joining the polls.
The second group is relatively younger and is led by Khaleda Zia’s exiled son, Tarique Rahman. The inflexibility of “not going to the polls unless there is a non-partisan caretaker government” is what they endorse. They believe that party leaders and activists have already paid a heavy price by being in opposition and on the run for a long time. So they have nothing to lose. Many of them still have many years left in their political careers and are therefore ready to invest more time, unlike the other group of veterans, who are mostly nearing the end of their careers and want to end on a good note. note.
However, a big plus for the BNP is that the party has remained more or less united despite all the hardships it has had to endure since leaving power 17 years ago. In fact, the party is currently going through the most difficult period in its history: President Khaleda Zia has been in prison for several years; second-in-command Tarique Rahman has been in exile even longer; there are at least 200,000 political cases against BNP leaders and activists, to name but a few of the predicaments. Everyone thought the party was going to fall apart after Khaleda Zia was imprisoned. But that didn’t happen – none of the top leaders left the party.
Another big plus is that no matter how tough things have been, the BNP is still one of the two most popular political parties in Bangladesh. Even in the most remote corners of the country, devoid of any civic facilities, there is a local BNP committee, just as there is one for the Awami League. Although he was not in power for so many years, that has not changed.
Although it seems like a daunting task in the face of hundreds of thousands of cases hanging over the heads of its leaders and rank-and-file workers, the BNP must somehow find a way to recover the strength to channel its popularity. and its grassroots support in building a political movement. Because they decide to join the polls for a decent result or take to the streets to stop the government from holding an election, they will demand their base rise up once again.
Mohammad Al-Masum Molla is Deputy Chief Reporter at the Daily Star.