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Which way will Ershad go?

  • Published at 12:20 pm August 18th, 2017
Which way will Ershad go?
With just over a year to go until the next general election, Jatiya Party (JaPa) Chairman Hussain Muhammad Ershad is weighing several campaign options, hoping to place his party as the main opposition. JaPa, which became the principal opposition in parliament by default with the second highest number of seats after BNP boycotted the last polls, is currently pursuing at least three alternative routes, according to sources. The first and foremost option, which has taken shape in the last few months, is taking part in the election under the banner of a new coalition composed of leftist and democratic political parties, sources and JaPa leaders have said. The second alternative is the 58-party United National Alliance (UNA), which JaPa leads, formed in May with mostly Islamist parties. The third option is going solo. However, Ershad is not very hopeful of doing well in the election with UNA because of various reasons, while leaders of a number of the allied parties have so far shown no respect for his decisions, sources said. Whichever way Ershad chooses, JaPa is already preparing to contest in all 300 constituencies across the country, like it did in the 2014 election. According to members of the Presidium, the party’s highest policymaking body, Ershad is cautious about making decisions regarding the 11th parliamentary polls and is currently juggling different options. A JaPa central leader, requesting anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune: “He (Ershad) has asked party leaders to maintain communications with all potential allies. GM Quader is communicating with the leftist and democratic parties, two others with Awami League and BNP, and Ruhul Amin Howlader with UNA. “At the moment, even I’m not sure which way we’ll go. Most probably, as per his characteristics, he’ll decide at the last minute.” The Jatiya Party took part in the 2008 polls as a partner in the Grand Alliance led by Awami League (AL). It, however, contested separately in the last election and is now the main opposition in the House. But it still has a stake in the government with a minister and two state ministers while Ershad serves as a special envoy to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. However, Ershad, known for his unpredictable political moves and statements, recently has been taking shots at both AL and BNP over various issues. After the recent deadly landslides and floods in the country, the former president had said that these natural disasters were like ‘the wrath of Allah coming down on the AL government’. He also criticised the current law and order situation, saying it was the worst in the country’s history. Taking a dig at BNP, Ershad recently said that Khaleda Zia’s party was the main obstruction to the country’s development. “Bangladesh would have surpassed Dubai and Singapore by now if its progress wasn’t delayed by BNP’s destructive activities during its anti-government movements.” While throwing jabs at both AL and BNP, Ershad is keeping things close to the chest before deciding the way to go for the next polls due between late 2018 and early 2019. "Now Jatiya Party is not what it was in the past. We’re now a big factor in politics. There'll be no election without us and no one will be able to gain power without us," Ershad said yesterday in Sherpur, reports UNB. He also said they were making JaPa stronger as now there is a bright prospect for them to return to power with people's votes. Despite all the confusions inside the party, JaPa had given Ershad a grand reception, the biggest he has received in recent memory, on the day he returned from India last month.

The leftist and democratic one?

Sources inside JaPa told the Dhaka Tribune that Ershad has been mostly maintaining good relations with the leaders of several leftist and democratic parties, who have been talking about forming a third bloc beyond the coalitions headed by AL and BNP. On August 2, Ershad’s brother and JaPa Co-Chairman GM Quader had joined a meeting at Bikalpadhara Bangladesh President AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury’s Baridhara residence. Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) President ASM Abdur Rab, Nagorik Oikya Convener Mahmudur Rahman Manna and Gano Forum’s Executive President Subrata Chowdhury also attended that meeting. JSD General Secretary Abdul Malek Ratan said that meeting had discussed the possibility and potential of forging the new alliance. Rab had hosted another gathering at his Uttara house on the night of July 13 with Badruddoza, Krishak Sramik Janata League chief Abdul Kader Siddique, Manna and Subrata in attendance among others before police gatecrashed it. These parties and ten others will form the new alliance, according to sources.

UNA – The hopeless second choice?

Jatiya Party also hopes the new coalition – UNA – that HM Ershad formed three months ago with 57 other parties will serve as an alternative to the AL-led 14-party and the BNP-led 20-party alliances. The UNA comprises JaPa, Bangladesh Islamic Front, the 34-party Islamic Moha Jote, and the 22-party Bangladesh Jatiya Jote. But only the first two parties are currently registered with the Election Commission. Announcing the alliance’s formation, Ershad had said: “We have come together because we hold the same political ideology, Islamic values, sense of nationality and respect for all religious communities.” However, sources inside the Islamist parties have said that most of the UNA members want the three JaPa ministers to resign from the AL-led government. Since January, Ershad on several occasions said that the JaPa leaders will leave the cabinet “very soon”. But, the JaPa ministers and Ershad are yet to resign from their ministerial and special envoy posts. With that issue dragging and other unregistered alliance members, UNA is yet to join the political arena actively and that has made Ershad hopeless about its future, sources said. They said only 11 out of 58 parties had attended the first alliance meeting in May. Many alliance leaders did not even respect Ershad’s decisions and showed that openly there.

Time to go solo?

On the other hand, several JaPa central leaders said that Chairman Ershad has asked them to make preparations for participating in the election on their own if the other options fail. According to sources, Ershad has given this directive to more than 100 party leaders across the country, fearing the UNA move may not work. If BNP boycotts the next polls too, then JaPa plans to become the main opposition in parliament as an individual political party even if they lose the ballot to AL, sources said. Several times in the last few months, Ershad has said that JaPa now has a good chance to take the mantle of second biggest political party in the country from BNP.

What AL and BNP think

On JaPa issue, AL Presidium Member Abdur Razzak told the Dhaka Tribune: “Our plan until now is to go into the election as the 14-party alliance. We have no separate plans for Jatiya Party at the moment. But we’ll consider adding them in our coalition if they wish to join us.” However, several central leaders of JaPa have said that they wish to remain by AL’s side in the next polls. A JaPa Presidium member, requesting anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune: “There is still a possibility that we’ll join the polls with AL as allies. There has been no disagreement or tension between the two parties. “The 11th national polls will be different than the last one. BNP has also hinted about participating in the election. The 14-party alliance is preparing a strategy for that.” BNP Standing Committee Member Gayeshwar Chandra Roy told the Dhaka Tribune: “HM Ershad will take the route he finds in his favour like always. But I think he will only choose the path his master, whoever that is, asks him to take.” When asked who Ershad’s ‘master’ was, Gayeshwar skirted a direct answer. “He (Ershad) does not live by his own rules. He will never disobey his masters abroad.”
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