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CWA # 68, 16 December 2018

South Asia Monthly Brief (Nov 2018)
Bangladesh

  Sourina Bej
Research Associate, ISSSP, NIAS

The Countdown:  Who stands Where?

The political landscape in Bangladesh is charged with the electoral campaign. The vote bank tussle between Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Awami League, the incumbent government, has reached a new ground with the imprisonment of the BNP chief Khaleda Zia thereby leaving the space for fierce opposition relatively weak. In this political context, how has the election campaign unfolded with just few weeks left for the V-Day.

Removing Khaleda from Campaign Trail

The Bangladesh High Court on 27 November pronounced that convict sentenced to more than two years in jail cannot contest the election, even if an appeal is pending. This observation bars BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and his son from participating in the election. This has left the BNP to search for a strong coalition against Awami League.

Bangladesh’s centre-right opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), clinched a deal with Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old secular icon, raising its hope to end the ruling Awami League’s decade-long rule. With Khaleda Zia being deemed ineligible to contest the polls, this step comes across as a desperate step to remain afloat in the election.  Hossain formed a new party in the early ‘90s, having fallen out with Hasina. Since then, he has worked on human rights issues. During the centre-right BNP’s 2001-2006 tenure, he was one of its fiercest critics. He was particularly vocal about the then government’s failure to protect minorities. The Jatiya Oikya front, a 20-party alliance led by 81-year-old Dr Kamal Hossain, had echoed BNP’s demand for a caretaker government to take over in the weeks heading into the polls.

In response to the demand, Bangladesh poll authority deferred the date for next month’s general elections by a week from December 23 to December 30.

Awami League Struggle Dissidents Within

At least 70 Awami League leaders have filed nomination papers as independent candidates from 43 constituencies in 21 districts, defying the party high command's repeated warnings of punitive action for going against party nominees. They sought candidacy alongside their party-nominated candidates. On the other hand, the BNP appears to be in a better position with fewer dissidents. One of the reasons behind this is that the party fielded multiple candidates in almost all constituencies. According to the Election Commission data, 696 BNP leaders submitted nomination papers from 295 constituencies on the party ticket.

BNP’s completed its distribution of nomination letters by 27 November 2018.The party picked two candidates for almost every constituency as it started handing out nomination letters to aspirants for 240 seats. The other 60 seats were reserved for allies including the components of the Jatiya Oikyafront.

Jamaat Resumes Political Activities

After a brief political stint, Jamaat has resumed its political activities but has run into contestation with its ally BNP over the party symbol. BNP and its 20-party alliance member Jamaat-e-Islami engaged in a day-long drama on 29 November over the allocation of electoral symbols for the upcoming 11th parliamentary election. Jamaat aims to contest election under BNP’s symbol in 25 constituencies.

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