As the next national parliamentary election is expected in January 2024, which is barely 15-16 months away, different political quarters are out to form alliance with a much-discussed inclusive election in mind. Since Jatiya Party is the country’s main opposition in national parliament officially, influence of heightened political activities is pretty evident in the party’s goings-on as well, writes PRESS XPRESS
In recent months, Bangladesh’s political arena has been witnessing a sort of intensified moves and actions – especially in view of an election year approaching fast. As the next national parliamentary election is expected in January 2024, which is barely 15-16 months away, different political quarters are out to form alliance with a much-discussed inclusive election in mind. Since Jatiya Party (JP) is the country’s main opposition in national parliament officially, influence of heightened political activities is pretty evident in the party’s goings-on as well. Additionally, the party’s internal politics has taken a fresh turn and twist following recent rift between JP founder late President Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s brother, who’s also the party’s current Chairman Ghulam Muhammed Quader, and Ershad’s wife, who’s also the party’s Chief Patron Rowshan Ershad.
The latest saga emerged all in a sudden when the latter announced the party’s November 26 council through a letter on August 31, which the party chairman questioned and rejected outright. GM Quader’s logic is that the party constitution has entrusted the JP Chairman with all required power in this regard.
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But Rowshan Ershad as the Jatiya Party Chief Patron does not have any such authority to convene or call off party council. Meanwhile, JP’s Parliamentary Party has already sent a letter to Parliament Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury requesting her to pronounce GM Quader as the Leader of the Opposition in the House replacing Rowshan Ershad. The presidium members of the party have extended their support to this effect also with only the Rowshan Ershad supporters standing in the way.
In fact, GM Quader’s conflict with Rowshan Ershad dates back to the fag-end of Ershad era, when the two often ended up with brawl and divided opinion over founding party chairman’s heir-apparent status with HM Ershad seen doing the balancing act. But after the expiry of military ruler-turned politician HM Ershad, JP has been faced with a gaping hole with particular regard to its leadership, which is getting rather nakedly exposed before the people in recent times. Founded by HM Ershad, JP practically remains the omnipresent third largest party in Bangladesh politics after the ruling Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Even if the party does not have the capacity to come to power on their own, it still plays an important role in bringing another political party to power. And it is because of this power that the two main political parties of the country – AL and BNP – have tried time and again to maintain close liaison with JP. If we observe the previous national polls since 1991, it’s evident that whichever of the big two this party has extended support to, by way of forming alliance, was voted to state power. JP, because of this capacity, is considered to be the balance of power in the country’s politics. Since 2001, JP this way or that way has been with the AL-led grand alliance. But the party is yet to make its stance clear whether it’ll change its allegiance in the post-Ershad era. Will it be with the ruling alliance? Or, it’ll form alliance with BNP this time? Questions are also emerging in public minds as to whether this party can play an effective role in building a vibrant democracy in the country. Dynamics of the next election may depend well on these equations.
INTRA-PARTY CONFLICT AND REALITY
Jatiya Party is on the verge of collapse once again over the issue of council and opposition leader. Rowshan Ershad supporters are determined to hold party’s council on November 26. On the other hand, GM Quader’s supporters unanimously supported the proposal of the parliamentary party meeting to make him the leader of the opposition. The presidium meeting of the JP indicated that anyone joining hands with the conspirators against the party, irrespective of the level of the leader, will be expelled as per the constitution of the party. If someone is expelled, in that case, the party will face another round of breakdown. In view of the current turmoil in the party, Rowshan Ershad’s political secretary Golam Masih said,
“JP Council will be held on November 26 and we will proceed towards the council. We are outraged, surprised and shocked by the letter that the JP’s parliamentary party sent to the Speaker. What do we have to do? Begum Roshan Ershad will return to the country this month. She will decide the next step.”
It should be noted that Rowshan Ershad, the leader of the opposition in the parliament, will return to the country in the last week of this month. Rowshan Ershad was under treatment in a hospital in Bangkok, Thailand for ten months. Earlier, a press release signed by JP leader Iqbal Hussain Raju informed that Begum Rowshan Ershad called the 10th National Conference for party under the powers of chief patron, set in the regulations mentioned in sub-section 1 of Article 20 of the Constitution of the JP. Quoting Rowshan Ershad, it also said that her health condition is now completely stable and those who are promoting her repeatedly as sick have different motives. The circular urged everyone to forget all differences and confusions to make the conference a success. However, considerable doubt remains as to whether GM Quader and his followers will participate in the council. All these incidents have created fear among the leaders and workers of the party.
PROBABILITY OF BREAKUP: ACTIVISTS WORRIED
JP leaders and activists across the country are frustrated with the continued fuss and feud over party leadership. Shrouded in uncertainty, they’re often in the soul-searching as to which way the party is heading. Party Chairman GM Quader recently attended the wedding of missing BNP leader Ilyas Ali’s son when he had an unofficial meeting with BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir. Sources said Quader, soon after his talks with BNP, organised a rally in front of JP’s Kakrail office to protest against the increase in prices of commodities including fuel oil. There, GM Quader asked the government to resign. Because of this, he has been warned and informed about anti-government activities from the policy makers of AL.
According to sources, the present government is unconstitutional and illegal according to GM Quader’s commentary, then he should not be in Parliament. That is why he has been asked to resign. Party leaders and activists of JP said that the administrative condition of the party is now very weak. Awami League’s relationship with JP has already deteriorated. BNP is not able to trust JP because of its past activities. Again, there is no organisational strength in the party to elect candidates in 300 seats alone. As a result, the leaders and workers of the party themselves are expressing apprehension about the future of the party.
NEW TWIST IN THE SAGA
In yet another dramatic turnaround, JP Chief Whip Mashiur Rahman Ranga, who has recently been relieved of all party posts for breaching party’s discipline, has sought to withdraw the letter the JP parliamentary party sent to the speaker for removal of Rowshan Ershad as the opposition leader. On September 20, he submitted a letter to speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in this regard. In the letter, Ranga said that he convened a JP parliamentary party meeting on September 1 on instructions of party chairman GM Quader where he signed the letter. But, removing the opposition leader was not on the agenda of the meeting.
EFFECTIVE WITH OTHER’S POWER
Since the end HM Ershad’s dictatorship in December 1990, JP could not do anything in the elections alone. Starting from the 1991 national elections, the seats of the party have decreased continuously in the next three elections. However, their seats increased again in the next three national elections from 2008 onwards. The reason behind this is not their own power, rather being in alliance with Awami League, one of the main parties of the country. In the last national elections, Jatiya Party yet again allied with AL and got 27 seats. After the vote, the alliance was dissolved, as a result, Jatiya Party is now the main opposition party in the National Parliament. But their role as a fair democratic opposition is questionable. Moreover, the internal conflict within the party is prominently visible. In this situation, the question remains as to whether they can play the role of a proper political party at all.
CAN JP BECOME A SERIOUS CONTENDER BY BRINGING VIBRANCY IN POLITICS?
JP’s role as a vibrant political party is disputed because the characteristics that a proper and democratic-minded political party should have, are not reflected in the activities of the party to a large extent. According to political analysts, there is a deep-rooted perception among the general public that HM Ershad was power-hungry and seized state power at gunpoint; and the same power-hungry attitude is also present in his party. However, the leaders of the party do not try to hide anything. They are often heard to say that even if they cannot come to power as a single party, their policy is to partner with those who can rise to power. Because of this attitude, experts think that it is not a big deal for them who is in power or not, as sharing power has become the key policy of the party. Certainly, it will take time for JP to recover from this situation.
If the policy of sharing power with other parties was not followed by JP, would its reach and expansion of the party spread to the grassroots level, or would public support and involvement increase? Searching answers to such questions, it can be seen that Jatiya Party has become a regional party long ago since the fall of HM Ershad. Political analysts say that HM Ershad did not demand the provincial system of government without any reason. He actually knew that his party had become a region-based party. He knew that if there was a provincial government system, his party would get more seats in North and form a government there, and he would be able to head at least one provincial government. Behind this attitude of him, there worked a desire to lessen the pain of losing absolute power, but his hope was not fulfilled. Hence, he later set the main policy of his party to be with other major political parties of the country so that his party can sustain. Thus, his party continue adopting his policy, to be partner with the party in power by any means, even if it cannot go to power alone. Clinging to this attitude has alienated the party from the people, say analysts.
Finally, there is no denying that JP, though not a deeply rooted popular party, has managed to turn itself into a ‘trump card’ for other parties to gain and stay in power. As the elections draw closer, the political equation grows. Whatever the position of BNP in the Parliament, they have more public support than JP and is the main rival of Awami League. BNP has not yet changed its position in the sense of coming to the elections under the party government, although they are preparing internally. The ruling Awami League is also making multifaceted calculations for the election. That is why the role of JP is important in terms of ensuing elections. From that point of view, JP also has no other option than starting vibrant political ‘practice’. But, they have to consider the current political reality along with the internal conflict.
Many believe that JP will go into the election with an independent stand. Others think that JP is the last surprise of BNP. However, AL leaders say that in the end there will be a grand alliance and JP will elect being in the alliance. But political analysts feel that who the Jatiya Party will side with depends on the political situation of the time. Due to its opportunistic character, the party will move in the direction towards which it will benefit. However, since politics is ultimately for the people, there is no alternative to earning the trust of the people. Therefore, analysts contemplate that JP should come out of the opportunistic policy and bring vibrancy in the country’s politics like a responsible party by remaining active on the political field.