Bangladesh: Jatiya Leaders Signal Intent to Become ‘Real Opposition’ Party

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2016.02.01
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160201-BD-poster-1000 A Bangladeshi woman walks past an election poster depicting Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina and Jatiya Party chairman H.M. Ershad (right) in Dhaka, Dec. 21, 2008.
AFP

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s reigning Awami League has all but checkmated Bangladesh’s opposition, yet it is facing a minor revolt from the Jatiya Party which has announced intentions to form a “real opposition.”

For two years, the party headed by former military dictator H.M. Ershad has filled the nominal role of the parliamentary opposition. At the same time, it holds three seats in Hasina’s cabinet.

Now, Jatiya has announced a recall of those ministers.

“The Jatiya Party has been losing its credibility among people as the opposition. So, the presidium has decided to recall our representatives from the cabinet to establish a real opposition,” G.M. Quader, Ershad’s younger brother and party co-chair, told BenarNews.

Should it succeed in building a new opposition party, Jatiya would fill a void in Bangladesh, where the Awami League has ruled since 2009.

The Awami League and Bangladesh National Party (BNP) have traded places as the ruling party since independence in 1971, but the latter party currently holds no seats in parliament. Its leader Khaleda Zia is facing a sedition charge, and many of its top figures are behind bars.

‘A peculiar form of opposition’

Political observers say that the Jatiya’s defection from the government would strengthen the hand of the BNP and Zia, Hasina’s longtime bitter foe.

“The Jatiya Party is a peculiar form of opposition. They simultaneously hold the post of leader of the opposition and three cabinet members; you will hardly get such a form of opposition in the world,” Ataur Rahman, a professor of political science at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.

“G.M. Quader wants the party to make it a real opposition. If the Jatiya Party recalls its representatives from the cabinet, it would further cheer the street opposition BNP,” he said.

But the Jatiya Party itself is divided over the move.

Ershad’s wife Rowshan, who serves as official leader of the opposition in parliament, was conspicuously absent from a meeting of the party leadership in Dhaka on Sunday – as were the three ministers from Hasina’s cabinet.

“We are unlikely to resign from the cabinet. Let us see what happens,” Mujibul Haque Chunnu, the state minister for labor and employment and a Jatiya MP representing the Kishoreganj constituency, told BenarNews.

Possible trouble

According to the country’s Election Commission, the Jatiya Party won just seven percent of the popular vote in the general election of December 2008, compared with the BNP, which won 32 percent of vote.

The current power-sharing arrangement between the Awami League and Jatiya Party is a by-product of the country’s controversial 10th general election, in January 2014.

The BNP boycotted those polls, due to a decision by the Awami League to drop a constitutional provision requiring the incumbent party to step aside and let a neutral caretaker government rule Bangladesh during elections.

As a reward for Jatiya’s participation in the election, Awami offered the party three cabinet posts as well as the post of Leader of the Opposition.

Jatiya now occupies 40 seats in the Jatiya Sangsad, Bangladesh’s 350-seat unicameral legislature. The Awami League holds 238 seats, or 68 percent, of the total.

“So, the Awami League will try its best to debar the Jatiya Party from joining the BNP-led anti-government agitation,” Nizam Uddin Ahmed, an author of several books on parliamentary politics in Bangladesh, told BenarNews.

“If the Jatiya Party does join the BNP, the Awami League would face trouble,” he said.

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