With the 11th parliamentary election just over a year away and numerous aspiring candidates vying for nominations, infighting has now become the biggest headache for the Awami League.
A large number of aspirants also mean that the ruling party will have a tough time picking candidates and there is the possibility that those left in the cold may contest as renegades and take bites out of the party’s vote bank.
Choosing the right candidates is now a big challenge for Awami League, which is eyeing its third consecutive term in power. It’s now working to solve the squabble inside the party and come up with the best 300 candidates to field in the polls.
With Khaleda Zia’s BNP, which is scrambling to select their ideal candidates for all 300 seats, preparing to join the fray, more infighting in Awami League simply means it will lose votes that could go into the bags of either BNP or other contenders.
The ruling party will face another threat if HM Ershad’s Jatiya Party chooses to battle it out in the next polls on its own, leaving the Awami League-led alliance.
Sources told the Dhaka Tribune that the Awami League high command was aware about the bickering at the grassroots and district levels and is trying hard to quickly resolve them. But the major conflicts between the district leaders and lawmakers often present an intractable problem.
Political analysts say an internal feud between several leaders contributed to Awami League’s loss in the Comilla City Corporation election in March this year.
A recent Dhaka Tribune survey found that there were at least five to six nomination seekers in each constituency. The number was even higher in some constituencies.
For example, 11 Awami League leaders from Jamalpur 5 constituency say they hope to represent the party in the next election. There are 10 nomination seekers each for Nilphamari 4 and Narail 2 constituencies.
Party insiders said the aspirants have already hit the campaign trail and were keeping in touch with the party’s top brass to get polls tickets.
Awami League’s Jamalpur sadar unit chief Abdul Mannan Khan attributed the rise in the number of candidates on what he called, “the controversial activities of incumbent MPs”.
Khan, also one of the aspirants for Jamalpur 5 seat, told the Dhaka Tribune that they would work for the party’s chosen candidate in the polls.
“If the party chooses wrong candidates then there’s a chance that we will lose seats,” he quickly added.
Sheikh Aminur Rahman Himu, who hopes to represent the ruling party from Narail 2 seat, said the number of nomination seekers had “increased tremendously” this time.
Himu, a former expatriate Awami League leader, said he had greater chances of securing nomination. “I will try my best to serve the people if I am given the chance,” he said.
Several district-level leaders claimed that each and every unit of the party was divided and many leaders think they are the most suitable candidates for the next election, even though lots of them are not committed to the party.
They said many businessmen, formal military officers and bureaucrats have also attributed in raising the number of potential aspirants with their attempt to secure Awami League nominations.
Awami League Joint General Secretary Abdur Rahman said the high number of candidates was a “very positive” sign. “This will help us to find the most suitable candidates,” he added.
Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, an organising secretary in the party’s Central Working Committee, said 4,000 people had pleaded for nominations from the party before the last election, and this time the number will be more than 10,000.
Roiled by conflict
Conflict among the party’s leaders and bloody clashes involving their supporters are big headaches for Awami League, which says is working to resolve the disputes.
Rights group Ain O Salish Kendra said the ruling party activists clashed with each other at least 88 times last year, leaving 17 dead and 1,052 injured.
During the same period, Awami League activists clashed with rival parties 13 times, resulting in one death and 190 injuries.
On August 11, a Jubo League leader was killed in Shariatpur’s Naria upazila in a clash between two Awami League factions.
Iqbal Hossain, vice-president of the upazila’s Rajnagar union Jubo League unit, was shot during the clash between supporters of union Awami League unit President Dadon Mia and union Chairman Zakir Gazi.
Zakir is a follower of upazila Chairman Ismail Hossain while Dadon follows local Awami League lawmaker Shawkat Ali.
On August 15, four ruling party activists were injured when two more factions clashed during the National Mourning Day programme in Chittagong’s Hathazari upazila.
On April 2, 2016, at least 25 people were injured in a clash between two groups of Awami League supporters at Rosulpur High School ground in Durgapur upazila of Rajshahi.
One group was led by Durgapur Awami League unit President Abdul Majid and other by local lawmaker Abdul Wadud Dara.
Sources said internal feuds were common but there was serious infighting in Chittagong city, Khagrachhari, Jessore, Khulna, Rajshahi, Natore, Bandarban, Narsingdi, Comilla, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Brahmanbaria, Noagaon, Barisal city, Bhola, Pirojpur, Moulvibazar and Sunamganj.
Jamalpur Awami League leader Abdul Mannan Khan dubbed the incumbent Jamalpur 5 parliamentarian Rezaul Karim Hira “unfit” for representing the party in the next polls.
He accused Hira of creating a number of factions inside the district unit of the party.
“Party’s high command should be more careful when nominating someone for his seat,” he said. “The party may lose seats if it selects wrong and unqualified candidates.”
Narail Awami League leader Himu alleged that the party’s leaders were trying to wipe out each other. They were either filing cases against supporters of rival leaders or taking them out.
“It will be a very difficult task for the high command to select the right candidates in this situation.”
He added: “Senior and prominent district-level leaders have created factions inside the units to fulfil their own interests. If the party picks these divisive leaders, then we may lose the seats as supporters of their rivals will most likely vote against them.”
Frantic efforts to resolve infighting
Several central leaders told the Dhaka Tribune that inner conflict was now the biggest problem for the party. If these conflicts were not resolved before the next ballot, Awami League will suffer, and
also may lose the election, they feared.
Awami League top brass has recently assigned several central leaders to resolve the conflicts before the party heads to the next polls, due between late 2018 and early 2019.
Joint General Secretary Abdur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune that party’s top leaders has already had talks with various district leaders to resolve the problems.
“At least 80% of the conflicts will be solved automatically after the selection of candidates,” he claimed, without elaborating.
However, Organising Secretary Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury went in a different direction, claiming: “There are no internal feuds in the party but fair competition, because of the huge number of committed leaders and aspirants. To an outsider it seems like conflicts.”
He also asserted that this “competition” will not affect Awami League during the polls.
“Awami League has passed harder times before. We will select the most suitable candidates and after that everything will be resolved,” he added.
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