EBF Report, 30 Jan 2019: BNP was already ‘lost in wilderness’ much ahead of the December 2018 elections with its leader Begum Khaleda Zia in jail on corruption charges and the second-in-command of the party, her son Tareque Zia in self- exile in London, also convicted of corruption and launching of grenade attacks to assassinate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2004. Although it was almost certain that the ruling party would emerge with a landslide victory, the people heaved a sigh of relief when the elections results were announced. Relieved because they did not know what would happen if BNP would return to power. They did not want the repetition of the violence, killings, burning of innocent people, series of grenade attacks they witnessed during BNP-Jamaat rule in Bangladesh. “People are no more interested to take to the streets at the call of the political parties. They want peace and they want that the present economic progress of the country continues’, said a BNP leader in the Netherlands, who at the same time expressed his utter frustration at the failure of the BNP leadership in Bangladesh. He however, was critical of the elections and termed it as farce.
That BNP would not gain majority in the elections was known to all. But no one, perhaps the Awami League leadership did not expect that BNP would suffer such a humiliating defeat in the 11th Parliamentary elections. Despite criticism from some national and international quarters including the UN, Hasina government was congratulated immediate after the elections results were announced by the international leaders including the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, American President Donald Trump, Chinese Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas, Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and many more. David Lewis, a professor of social policy at the London School of Economics and a Patron of EBF said, “many Western countries see Hasina as “offering relative stability” and questioning the election result “would risk more instability.”
BNP brought charges of rigging, threats in the elections by the ruling AL when they met the heads of the foreign missions in Dhaka after the elections, but those meetings and lodging of complaints failed to yield any results for them. According to the political observers, there were a number of factors for which BNP had such a humiliating defeat. It could not detach itself from the banned Jamaat-e-Islami, a party which is outlawed for its role in 1971. People did not appreciate that BNP allowed 22 members of Jamaat-e-Islami to take part in the elections with the election symbol of BNP. People also did not like that BNP leaders sought direct help and support from ISI agent in the Middle East and they did not like BNP leader Tareque Zia’s ‘Elections Trade’ allegedly by taking huge amount of money from the candidates contesting the elections. On the other hand, the so-called Jatiyo Oikyo Front led by Dr. Kamal Hossain failed to make a number of points clear when the foreign diplomats asked the Front leaders ‘who would be the Prime Minister if the Jote wins the elections’. Last but not the least, BNP was not clear even week before the election day, whether it would join the elections. As a result, their workers, supporters and local leaders were not sure what to do in such a situation and most of them were utterly demoralised and frustrated. Many of them of course, were also on hiding fearing the police excesses and cases.
BNP is now like a ‘shipwreck’. The party is like the remains of a ship that has been wrecked and is stranded or sunken to the bottom of the sea. There is no strong leadership in the party, there is a serious leadership crisis within the party. A party cannot be run by holding web meeting from London. In absence of a strong leadership in the party BNP utterly failed to stage any protest or demonstration even after 30 days of the elections. Their grievances, protests remain confined within the four walls of the party office and at the make shift office of the Oikyo front (Dr. Kamal Hossain’s personal chamber).
But political observers think that there should be a strong opposition political party in the country for the sake of democracy. A single-party rule leads the country to dictatorship. They opine that BNP should try to stand on its own feet and win the people’s trust and confidence, as it still enjoys huge support among the people. But BNP has to be clear on the point of its connection and association with Jamaat-e-Islami. BNP has to be clear on a number of national issues such as the number of deaths in the 1971 liberation war (Khaleda Zia contradicted), accept Bangabandhu as the national leader and the four guiding principles of Bangladesh including secularism. Only then BNP can win the sympathy and support of the people. Otherwise, the political observers think, BNP might have to embrace the fate of the powerful Muslim League when it being the strongest party in 1970 conceded a humiliating defeat to Awami Leauge and then gradually the party became a history.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has now more challenges than ever before. People want a terror-free country and a country minus corruption. Immediate after election victory Hasina reiterated her ‘zero tolerance’ on corruption and has inducted new cabinet ministers, mostly fresh and inexperienced. People are carefully watching her as their aspirations have risen manifold. On the other hand, Hasina has to resolve the standing issues such as Teesta water, border killings with India. People have seen that Hasina government has successfully tackled the terrorism and Islamic Jihads and they want to see that these elements are rooted out from the country once for all. The west and the big neighbour India too want this. If these issues can be addressed there is no one for AL to challenge in the coming years.