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Polls and party system: The rise and fall of Bangladesh’s fringe parties

  • Published at 01:05 am October 15th, 2018
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While the number of political parties in Bangladesh can be estimated at over 100, only 39 are officially registered after three recently had their registrations cancelled by the election commission

Dormant parties resurface and mushroom ahead of every parliamentary election in Bangladesh, and the upcoming polls are likely to be no different. 

While the number of political parties in Bangladesh can be estimated at over 100, only 39 are officially registered after three recently had their registrations cancelled by the election commission.

Although a few go on to win seats, candidates from minor parties do not get significant votes even after they are handed registrations to contest for a second or even third time in the polls. 

Indeed, there is no instruction from the election commission to check the history of dormant and inactive parties who achieve less than 1% of the total votes cast. 

However, according to the Representation of the People Order (RPO), the registration of any political party which does not participate in the parliamentary elections for two consecutive terms will be cancelled. 

“There is no law but if any party fails to participate in general election continuously, their registration will be cancelled,” Election Commission Secretary Helaluddin Ahmed said. 

“Also if any one (party) gets less than 1% of the votes they will be at risk, but cancelling registration is a long process.”


At least 27 political parties – including the BNP – are at risk of having their registrations cancelled if they do not participate in 11th parliamentary election due in December. 

“The weak point in laws relating to political parties participation in polls should be amended and each party performance should be reviewed every five years,” Director of Election Working Group-EWG-Dr Abdul Alim said.

“Law is equal for all. If BNP does not participate in the 11th parliamentary polls, their registration would be cancelled as per the law.” 

Under the RPO ordinance, the registrations of Kelafat Majlish are likely to be annulled ahead of the December polls as they did not participate in past two parliamentary elections. 

If BNP does not participate this time, it will be at risk afterwards.

At the individual candidate level, there is a provision in the RPO to confiscate the security money of any candidate who fails to obtain 12.5% of the votes cast in a given seat.

However, they can still register to participate in future parliamentary elections.

Awami League dominant

The Dhaka Tribune has reviewed the results of every parliamentary election held since from 2001. 

A total of 54 political parties fielded candidates for the 8th parliamentary election in 2001, when party registration was not mandatory. However, only eight of these parties won seats.

Though there was no restriction on participating in general elections, several dormant parties with no political identity obtained registration and contested in the general elections.  BNP formed the government after winning 193 seats with 22,833,978 (40.97%) votes. A total of 252 of its candidates contested the election.

Awami League obtained 62 seats with 2,23,65,516 (40.13%) votes. At least 300 of its candidates contested the polls.

Islami Jatiya Oikya Front (plough) won 14 seats with 4,038,453 (7.25%), while Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh won 17 with 2,385,361 (4.28%). 

Of the remaining 14 seats, four were won by Bangladesh Jatiya Party (N-F), two by Islami Oikya Jote, one each by Krisak Sramik Janata League (Gamchha) and Jatiya Party (Manju), and six by independents.

Of the 54 parties who participated, 49 obtained less than 1% of the vote while 33 parties polled no votes.

Restrictions in place for 2008

To check the mushroom growth of political parties, the Election Commission set restrictions on parties for participating in the 9th parliamentary election in 2008 by amending RPO 1972.  

The move to make party registration mandatory led to a decrease in the number of dormant parties. Although 38 official parties participated in the polls, only eight of them won seats.

Awami League was elected to power by obtaining 230 seats ahead of BNP with 30 seats and Jatiya Party with 27.

Among the lesser parties, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JASOD) won three seats, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Workers Party each won two, and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP won one seat each. Independent candidates took the remaining four seats. 

In the 2008 polls, 34 of the 38 parties obtained less than 1% of the vote, while six parties got no votes.

However, on August 1, 2013 the High Court declared Jamaat’s registration illegal. Later, the Election Commission cancelled the party’s registration following the High Court ruling. 

2014 boycotts

In 2014 election, only 12 parties participated as the main opposition BNP, LDP, and Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP boycotted the polls over the failure to install a neutral caretaker government during the election period. 

Awami League was elected to power again with 234 seats, ahead of the Jatiya Party on 34.

Of the five other parties to win seats, the Bangladesh Workers Party won six,  Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JASOD) won five, Bangladesh Tarikat Federation and Jatiyo Party-JP each won two, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Front (BNF) won one seat. l