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Jatiya Party’s caprice of an engineered election: A dangerous instance for democracy in Bangladesh

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Military dictator Gen Hussain Muhammad Ershad made numerous attempts to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic Republic. Through constitutional amendment, he made Islam as state religion. Ershad did not participate in Bangladesh’s war of independence. Instead, sitting somewhere in Pakistan, he was actively collaborating occupation forces and enthusiastically supporting their cruelty and notoriety, including massacre of Hindus in erstwhile East Pakistan – including rape of Hindu girls and women.

On the 52nd anniversary of Bangladesh’s victory day, Ershad’s family enterprise Jatiya Party has started spreading miasma by pressing demand for holding an engineered election on January 7, 2024 and has repeatedly placed forward its notorious caprice of ensuring winning of its candidates. In plain words – Jatiya Party doesn’t have the ability of winning even 5 seats without direct blessings of the ruling Awami League, because it doesn’t enjoy support of the masses and voters.

According to The Daily Star, the ruling Awami League on December 15, 2023 agreed in principle to withdraw its nominees in 30 constituencies, so that Jatiya Party candidates do not have to compete against AL picks. In addition, Jatiya Party also wants the independent candidates also withdraw their nomination so that its candidates can “win” the election without contest or at least genuine contest.

Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who also is the president of ruling Awami League said the ruling party may not share any seat with the Jatiya Party in the upcoming polls.

Sheikh Hasina, referring to recent meetings between Awami League (AL) and Jatiya Party (JP) over share of seats, said that the JP had demanded 75 seats and the withdrawal of AL nominees and “AL independents” from those seats. She questioned whether the JP could win 75 constituencies even without the BNP in the race.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is correct. Jatiya Party even cannot win 5 seats in the next parliamentary election without the direct blessings and support of Awami League. That is the reason what has prompted Jatiya Party leaders in repeatedly pressing-forward their caprice of an engineered election, although JP’s chairman GM Quader – for the past two years has been repeatedly telling foreign envoys that there is no scope for a free and fair election under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and there was “no level playing field”, now Jatiya Party is begging mercy of ruling Awami League in the upcoming general election – to ensure its survival. Jatiya Party is demanding uncontested 30+ seats. Meaning, they want an engineered election.

Statistics reveal the stark truth about the Jatiya Party’s dwindling influence. Over 86 percent of its candidates forfeited security deposits during the last two general elections, with a nationwide vote bank now below two percent. Its survival hinges on aligning with larger parties like the Awami League, unable to secure more than a handful of seats without their blessings.

Despite this reality, foreign envoys, including the US ambassador and the British High Commissioner, have unknowingly bestowed unwarranted attention and significance upon this relatively inconsequential political entity like Jatiya Party, perhaps considering it as a potential ruling party.

Most interesting part here is – while Jatiya Party leaders have been repeatedly telling foreign envoys that there is no scope for a free and fair election under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and there was “no level playing field”, now Jatiya Party is begging mercy of ruling Awami League in the upcoming general election – to ensure its survival. Jatiya Party is demanding uncontested 60+ seats. Meaning, they want an engineered election.

GM Quader even went further by saying, Awami League wants to retain power through another ‘farcical’ election to establish one-party rule. He said, “If they [AL] come back to power, a total dictatorship will be established in the country. One-party rule will be established. Basic human rights, including freedom of speech, will disappear. If there are other political parties, they will also be subservient to the Awami League. No more voices will be found to speak”.

He has also supported US administration’s visa policy on Bangladesh stating, “The United States expects free, fair and neutral elections in Bangladesh. What is said in the visa policy, all goes in favor Bangladesh and its people. We can’t expect a free, fair and impartial election under the current government. This needs to be changed. But we need consensus on the kind of change through discussion with all parties. So we (Jatiya Party) support the US visa policy”.

In my opinion, accepting Jatiya Party’s caprice for an engineered election would be perilous for Bangladesh’s democratic integrity. It could lead to a compromised government heavily reliant on the whims of a party lacking credibility and honesty. The Awami League must refrain from polluting the election process by succumbing to undue caprice from the Jatiya Party. Instead, it should uphold the principles of fair competition by allowing all parties, including the Jatiya Party, to contest the election without preferential treatment, as ramifications of conceding to such caprice would be dire. It risks intensified scrutiny from Western nations, potentially inviting severe repercussions and media backlash against the Awami League.

Differentiating between a rigged, flawed, and engineered election becomes moot when considering the detrimental impact on Bangladesh’s democratic future.

For the Awami League, compliance with the Jatiya Party’s demands could prove catastrophic. It risks not only its own political future but also jeopardizes the very foundations of Bangladesh’s democracy. Upholding the sanctity of a fair and transparent election process is crucial, ensuring that Bangladesh marches forward on the path of genuine democratic progress.

Meanwhile, alleged clandestine connections between the Jatiya Party and BNP’s Tarique Rahman paint a picture of collusion aimed at manipulating future elections by pressuring for the revival of unelected caretaker governments, akin to Pakistan’s system. Secret meetings in Dubai, involving an influential figure from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), hint at a complex web of arrangements and underhand dealings.

Meanwhile, according to media sources, Jatiya Party’s chairman GM Quader and several leaders of the party are not only maintaining contact with BNP’s acting chairman Tarique Rahman, they even have reached into a secret arrangement, where Jatiya Party had categorically ensured Tarique of either abruptly withdrawing from election race at eleventh hour or play the role of a pressure force in the next parliament and compel Awami League in reviving the process of holding future elections under unelected caretaker government – similarly as Pakistan.

Jatiya Party leaders reportedly have guaranteed Tarique Rahman of getting the caretaker system revived within maximum six months of the next tenure of the government and suddenly resign en masse from parliament thus paving the path for a fresh election. Once that happens, Jatiya Party shall join the BNP-led alliance and subsequently become a coalition partner in the Ultra-Islamist government led by the BNP.

Another source said, the final arrangement of a secret romance between BNP and Jatiya Party was chalked-out when Jatiya Party chief GM Quader silently visited Dubai a few months ago being accompanied by his special envoy and nephew. At least two meetings took place between the Jatiya Party delegation and an influential officer of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). In presence of the ISI officer, Jatiya Party leaders had also joined a Skype meeting with BNP’s Tarique Rahman.

In my opinion, if ruling Awami League shall actualize Jatiya Party’s undue demand of holding an engineered election ensuring more than 40 seats to Jatiya Party, it shall definitely ride on the horns of rhino, where the next government shall become almost captive into the grips and whims of Jatiya Party leadership – that seriously lacks political honesty, credibility and even trustworthiness. As Bangladesh is heading towards a free, fair and credible election, the ruling Awami League must refrain from polluting it by granting undue favor to the so-called opposition – Jatiya Party. If this military dictator’s party wants to continue its existence in the parliament, let it contest the election challenging Awami League and opposition candidates alongside candidates from political parties such as Trinamool BNP.

While Western nations have been repeatedly putting emphasis on a free, fair and credible election in Bangladesh, for ruling Awami League it shall be a genuine blunder that may bring catastrophic consequences if it accepts Jatiya Party’s undue demand of an engineered election on January 7.

Reaching into any secret deal with Jatiya Party shall result in intensified media assault targeting Awami League, which may lead the Western nations in taking the next step against Bangladesh. Key policymakers in the ruling Awami League hopefully understand – there is no distinctive difference between a rigged or flawed election and an engineered election. Just for the sake of giving new life to Jatiya Party, if ruling Awami League accepts its demand of an engineered election, it actually will be suicidal for Awami League and the future of Bangladesh’s democracy.

Awami League leaders need to understand, the implications of accepting the Jatiya Party’s demands for an engineered election are dire. It not only jeopardizes the Awami League’s political future but also threatens Bangladesh’s democratic foundations, as the Jatiya Party can now be considered as a threat to democracy. Upholding the sanctity of a fair and transparent election process is imperative for Bangladesh’s genuine democratic progress.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research-scholar, and Editor, Blitz, a newspaper publishing from Bangladesh since 2003. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers. Follow him on X @Salah_Shoaib

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