There has been a storm in a teacup in numerous forums – from rural tea stalls to country’s leading think tanks – since BNP decided to contest upcoming local municipal (mayoral) polls, because the party had opted the opposite during infamously controversial general election held on 5 February 2015.
Was not that a contradiction? Yes, to some extent. No, in large. BNP never had a problem over participation in local elections under partisan government. Local elections are irrelevant when it comes to BNP’s core demand to hold national elections under caretaker government rather than a political one, because 1) unlike national polls, local polls do not destine anyone to be in country’s power, and 2) local elections have always been held by political govt. even when caretaker system was in effect.
However, as a political observer, not as a BNP politician, I find that BNP has slightly shifted from its demand to revive caretaker system, instead, emphasized on importance of holding national poll under a neutral government headed by anyone but Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister.
Since current Awami League (AL) government and EC failed to maintain fair standards in almost all local elections – Upazilla and City Corporation Polls – held after the former took power in 2014, BNP’s main concern has been current government’s unwillingness to perform a fair, neutral and inclusive election regardless of local or national one. Therefore, another question has rightfully been arisen that if BNP is not satisfied about the performance of Election Commission and government, why did the party decided to take a part in upcoming election? Simply put, we had no alternative.
Since 2006, BNP’s out of power despite its tremendous public support all over the country. People are irritated about BNP’s boycott of national poll in 2014. Admitting public annoyance, Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the acting secretary general of BNP, bowed to ‘not let AL win unchallenged‘ anymore. Furthermore, a significant portion of BNP activists still believes that BNP should not have boycotted the poll despite genuine deficit in fair standards because at least the party would act as the opposition party by now.
Thousands of our leaders and activists were detained. Six thousand activists have been put behind jail since the announcement of poll schedule! Due to party’s failure to turn repeated movements against govt. into a success, activists around the country are, naturally, frustrated. Hence, despite our grave discomfort, we are participating in the elections. BNP knows that the polls would hardly be fair, but in order to re-energize root activists, it had no choice, one can easily speculate. There are already indications are made that we are not meant to run campaign freely. For example, I was threatened to thwart my campaign in support of party-nominated candidates and leave my own constituency. One of my senior leaders in Matiranga sub-district, Nazrul Islam, who was a vice-president of Krishak Dal, a farmer wing of Khagrachari BNP that I head, was hacked to death after taking part in a rally in support of our candidate! Still, we have to be determined to go forward, unless we want Nazrul’s soul to be failed.
If BNP loses due to unfair, fraud and corrupt acts of EC and administration, indications of which already have started to prevail, only our claim about current administration’s inability and unwillingness to hold fair elections will be strengthened. If we win, the fact that – this government is not supported by the lion’s share of the population because most of its MPs were elected uncontested – will gain fresh momentum. We opted to contest upcoming local municipal polls to see which option between two the government would choose to make us win.