Where did BNP’s strategy go wrong?

Where did BNP’s strategy go wrong?

Since 1991 Bangladesh Nationalist Party ( BNP) either formed the government or sat in the opposition in the parliament. For the first time, the BNP will remain absent in the 10th parliament because the party boycotted 5th January parliamentary elections on the issue of the non-party poll-time government holding the elections.

But the question is: why did it happen? Many observers believe that there are many reasons for it and some of them deserve mention as below:

When the Hasina government came into power in 2009, a special constitutional committee was formed with MPs in 2010 from different political parties to amend the constitution, but the BNP boycotted it. Observers say if they took part in the committee, they would have been able to robustly argue against the abolition of the caretaker system, although they would have been outvoted by the AL members. The BNP could have argued later that their views were duly recorded on the issue in the Committee.

Meanwhile, the verdict of the apex court which declared that such unelected government was unconstitutional provided PM Sheikh Hasina an excellent opportunity to amend the constitution in 2011 abolishing care-taker poll-time government. Since then Awami League has argued that it has to abide by the constitution and there is no scope for a non-party poll-time government under the constitution.

The BNP, on the other hand, strongly argued that the AL misconceived the verdict and that the apex court did not rule out the non-partisan government for another two parliamentary elections, meaning that such government can exist until 2024 in the given the mistrust between the two major parties of the country.

Political scenario:

The political turbulence during the last two and half years was somewhat different from that of the past because primarily two issues- one raised by the BNP and the other by Jamaat –e- Islami– have dominated the political scene in the country.

While the BNP sought the restoration of non-party caretaker government, the Jamaat concentrated on its demand that the trial of their leaders by the Tribunals set up in 2010 under the International Crimes Tribunals Act be postponed and their leaders released.

The issues are totally separate and consequently people’s reaction has also been different. While it is reported that 77% agreed with the BNP stance on the restoration of the non-party caretaker poll-time government, by and large the people overwhelmingly supported the trial of Jamaat leaders charged with crimes against humanity in 1971 Liberation War.

Observers say that by supporting the Jamaat for hartals on the trial issue, BNP’s own demand for the restoration of the caretaker government appeared to have got mixed up and lost its focus.. The people were confused about what BNP wanted.

Violent Actions:

During the hartals and blockades, never before people saw in the country such incidents of arson, throwing petrol bombs on persons in the transport and burning and derailment of trains. There is a view the BNP should have disassociated from such violent activities and should have seen the adverse impact of such violent actions on the day-to-day lives of people in the country. The BNP leaders could have visited the burn unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital and showed sympathy for the victims.

Furthermore the violent tactics had put off common people, even reportedly BNP supporters, from destructive hartals and blockades. All political leaders agree that political movement cannot be sustained or carried forward by violent actions when innocent people including children died of burns due to petrol bombs.

Prime Minister’s offer:

On November 21 Prime Minister Hasina formed a poll-time “all-party” government and invited the BNP to nominate a few MPs to the government but the BNP rejected the offer thinking that it was a political trap set up by the government. Whether the decision was right or wrong, future will judge.

On the other hand, BNP argued that since PM under the constitution exclusively held the executive power, Ministers’ decision could be countermanded by PM and joining the all-party government was of no use.

The members of civil society could not play any role in organizing a constructive dialogue between the government and the BNP because they themselves are divided along party lines.. The UN succeeded to organize talks between the two parties but talks failed.

Analysts say the smaller parties outside the BNP alliance simply encouraged BNP to boycott the elections but their followers did not come out into the streets with BNP leaders and supporters for the non-party poll time government.

BNP’s miscalculation:

The BNP-backed candidates won many local mayoral elections with thumping majority defeating AL candidates n the middle of 2013, although local elections are different from the parliamentary elections because the outcome changes the power of the national government.

Many analysts say the BNP should have publicly presented “the nuts and bolts” of its proposed poll-time government to hold a free, fair and credible poll. Some say the BNP could have accepted the offer of ministers in the all-party government headed by PM. The presence of the BNP Ministers including Home portfolio could have possibly created an environment in which rigging of the polls could have been minimal.

Furthermore if BNP would have participated in the poll, hundreds of international observers from US, European Union, Commonwealth and other organization would have come to Bangladesh to monitor and observe the fairness of the poll. It could be argued that it would have been difficult to resort to malpractices such as seizure of polling booths and stuffing of ballot boxes illegally. Furthermore in the days of electronic gadgets (such as smart cell phone ) available to the media, observers and voters, the presence of BNP polling agents in every booth it would have been difficult to rig elections. If there was foul play in the election, BNP would have gained politically.

It is argued that BNP failed to successfully mobilise people, despite popular support for the non-party poll-time government. Why it failed needs critical examination of all the factors associated with it.

That fact is that hartals and blockades by BNP and its allies since 25th November could not prevent from holding the 5th January elections and the government was successful in holding elections at the 147 constituencies amidst mindless violence. This election was one of the most violent and challenged one ever held in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile the AL and its allies bagged 153 candidates uncontested out of 300-seats. While the AL argues that the elections had to be held as a constitutional necessity for promotion of democracy, BNP and other parties argue that the election deprived the voters of their constitutional right to elect their MPs and the uncontested elected 153 MPs do not represent the people of their constituencies. BNP also argue that their boycott was successful because majority people kept away from voting.

Although BNP argues that it would have faced defeat at the elections held under the Hasina government, the BNP grass root workers do not reportedly agree with this view and were disappointed with the strategy of the BNP leadership and seek explanation from them. It is reported that BNP leaderships are aware of their dissatisfaction. The recent speech of the BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia demonstrated the ground reality when she called for peaceful agitation programmes, saying her party did not believe in violence and confrontation.

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