Can BNP emerge as a force to reckon in the 2019 national election? That is a question many people ask these days as the election approaches fast. Though it always claims to be a major political party in Bangladesh, the BNP looks to be a novice in dealing with any political situation. A bad patch has also been its partner since it lost power in 2006. The party has not been able so far to work out any plan to stage an effective comeback to politics. Whatever it does it goes wrong! Its role during the Election Commission formation is another example.
The party was in an upbeat mood when the President invited its leaders to join a dialogue with him at Bangabhaban. The BNP had its dialogue with the President on December 18 last. Emerging from the presidential palace after the talks, its leaders told journalists that they were happy and hoped that the President would form a good search committee to suggest names to him to form an independent election commission. Three weeks after its dialogue with Abdul Hamid, the BNP now says the “The President has committed the misdeed what he was supposed to do.”
If the media reports are to believe, a BNP nominee, Mahbub Talukder, a former bureaucrat, has been there in the five-member Election Commission headed by KM Nurul Huda, another retired bureaucrat. A week after the constitution of the election body, the BNP realised that Talukder was its wrong choice as ‘he is not a BNP man’. Even though the BNP, now an out-of-parliament opposition, has not clearly rejected the new election body, it has remained critical about the new Chief Election Commissioner as well saying that Mr. Huda was an active member of Janatar Mancha formed by government officials and employees in 1996 to oust the then BNP government.
Though the BNP is not talking about caretaker government this time over which it boycotted the last general election, it says no fair election is possible under the Election Commission the head of which has started making controversial comments well before taking oath. Upset with the appointment of Mr. Huda, BNP leaders argue that no election could be expected to be fair until there is an election-time administration.
Making a clear retreat from its previous stance for having a caretaker government to oversee election, Khaleda Zia’s party now pushes the ruling class for forming an election-time supportive government as proposed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ahead of the last national election only to be turned down by Khaleda Zia. Sheikh Hasina had even offered the BNP to take the Ministries of Home and Establishment to join the interim administration. But, the BNP chief was so uncompromising that she rejected it right away. President of Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh (BDB) Baruddozza Chowdhury also urged the Prime Minister to revive her interim government format as exercised last time.
According to the party insiders, the BNP is now mired with infighting and lack of solid leadership. Mistrusts and suspicions among party functionaries have also grown since Khaleda Zia does not directly control many party affairs. As the party chief remains dependent on even day-to-day information unlike the ruling party head, its mid-ranking leaders do not hesitate in passing wrong information. When Mahbub Talukder’s name was picked, all the party standing committee members were not duly informed. As the Bangabhaban announced the names of the Election Commission members, Khaleda’s party was too slow in coming up with a clear reaction.
The formation of the Election Commission in Bangladesh still remains an unsettled issue for lack of a law and strong political will. It is the collective failure of all political parties why there is no credible election arrangement process in the country. Since the restoration of democracy in the early 90s, there had been seven election commissions in Bangladesh. Heads of at least three of these commissions — Justice AKM Sadeq, Justice MA Aziz and Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad -– sparked off controversies either with their activities or remarks that apparently looked politically sensitive.
The Aziz Commission, appointed by the then BNP government, had created an embarrassing situation for the entire nation. He had refused to quit when pressure was mounted on him to go away. He was finally pushed out by the military-led caretaker government. Azis was supposed to hold the national election on January 22, 2007, an election that got delayed by nearly two years due to the state of emergency declared amid the growing political turmoil in the country.
According to election experts, the election bodies led by Justice Abdur Rouf, Abu Hena and ATM Shamsul Huda, constituted by interim regimes, had been able to hold peaceful and credible national elections in 1991, 1996 and 2008. Shamsul Huda is still acclaimed for his strategic role as the election body chief. But Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad completed his five-year journey leaving public expectations unfulfilled as he lost ‘control over elections’ in his last three years in office, according to political analysts.
It still remains to be seen how the new election body will perform but controversies have already arisen before its oath taking. The new Chief Election Commissioner has made some remarks that, many say, should not have been made. It is not about drawing media’s attention, but about maintaining the integrity as the head of a constitutional body. You need to hear the God through silence. And that is the beauty.
The government appointed former senior secretary Iqbal Mahmood as head of the Anti Corruption Commission last year. After his appointment, the ACC chief avoided the media as much as possible and was highly diplomatic in his remarks. After assuming office, Iqbal Mahmood has launched a drive against corrupt people without raising any storm. An arrest drive is going on against corrupt elements across the country though he has not yet been able to carry out any surgical strike against big fish. He may one day also draw criticisms for targeting the small fry only.
About the BNP, it can be said the party has no choice but to join the next national election, no matter how it is going to be held. If not, the party will lose the registration with the Election Commission as a political party for boycotting two successive parliamentary polls.
The problems of Khaleda Zia’s party are its failures to take the right decisions at the right time, and allowing its mid-ranking leaders to engage in business when it was in power. These neo politico-businessmen have ultimately amassed huge wealth and engaged themselves more in protecting personal wealth than serving the party. So, reorganising this political party, which suffered a huge political debacle, is not an easy job. A visionary political planning by political strategists can help the party overcome its bad patch.
To have credible and sustainable election system in the country, both the political parties and the Election Commission need to work with due diligence as the path is bumpy. All concerned need to earn their own roles to make the best of an uneven situation. Jerk the rug to set the right example.
Mahfuzur Rahman is Chief News Editor of United News of Bangladesh (UNB). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org