Bangladesh’s Rival Parties Call for Dialogue

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160105-BD-zia-620 Khaleda Zia, leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), addresses a rally in Dhaka, Jan. 5, 2016.

Officials from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) pledged Tuesday to abandon violent tactics used in the past and engage the ruling Awami League in talks.

Most BNP officials have come to regret the decision to stage hartals (strikes), transportation blockades and other protests in 2013, 2014 and 2015, because they turned violent and led to the deaths of scores of Bangladeshis, a party leader said.

“The violence has not brought our desired result. So, we are now pragmatic in our approach. The violent street protests and strikes are no longer an option for us,” Mahbubur Rahman, a member of the BNP’s Standing Committee, told BenarNews.

The violence revolved around the controversial 2014 general election, which the Awami League won and the BNP boycotted. The two parties feuded bitterly in the run-up to and aftermath of polls held on Jan. 5, 2014, with bipartisan tensions spilling over into violence in the streets.

Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, an MP and organizing secretary of the Awami League, praised the move by the rival party.

“Democracy means accommodation, discussion, participation, not violence and exclusion. Now they have come to understand that the people do not like violence. We welcome such an approach,” Chowdhury told BenarNews.

On Tuesday, the two parties held peaceful rallies in Dhaka to commemorate the second anniversary of the vote. Both sides called on one another to end political violence and strive toward putting democracy in Bangladesh back on track.

“We want a solution through discussion. We have to work together for democracy,” BNP leader Khaleda Zia told a gathering in the capital. She also called on the ruling party to set a date for the next general election earlier than the one that is now expected in 2019.

Not far away, the Awami League staged a celebration of the January 2014 polls.

“People have not forgotten the destruction you have caused. Stop your destructive politics; return to the path of democracy,” Syed Ashraful Islam, general secretary of the Awami League, said of the BNP as he addressed his party’s faithful in front of the Baitul Mukarram, Bangladesh’s national mosque.

A dreadful day

Ataur Rahman, a political science professor at the Dhaka University, described Tuesday’s political developments as “a new beginning in Bangladesh’s confrontational democracy.”

“To the common people, January 5 has become a dreadful day. But this year, people have heaved a sigh of relief as the two major parties have not resorted to violent political action programs,” he told BenarNews.

“We can expect that the two parties can bid farewell to the old political culture of street violence to settle their political differences,” Rahman added.

The BNP’s anti-governmental protests over the previous three years led to nationwide shutdowns. Last year’s BNP-led protests, which lasted about three months in early 2015, led to the deaths of more than 120 people, who were killed in incidents such as the petrol-bombings of buses.

According the World Bank, Bangladesh lost U.S. $2.2 billion in potential economic growth, and its gross domestic product shrank by 1 percent as a result of the strikes and protests in 2015.

The BNP and its ally in the opposition, Jamaat-e-Islami, launched the protests because they did not recognize the January 2014 election as legitimate.

The opposition parties accused the Awami League of rigging the election by dropping a constitutional provision that had guaranteed a caretaker government would rule Bangladesh during a transition period before and after a general election.

During three previous general elections, the party in power stepped aside and allowed a caretaker administration to govern the country in the interim.

‘Olive branch’

Both parties have blamed the other for fanning tensions and political violence that gripped the country during the previous three years.

“We do not want to give the government a chance to commit street violence and put the blame on us,” said Mahbubur Rahman of the BNP.

“What we strongly believe is that violence brings no good to anyone. People do not like street action programs. From now on, we will mobilize the people to restore our democratic rights [that] the ruling Awami League continues to violate,” he added.

Abu Hena, a former lawmaker affiliated with the BNP, told BenarNews that its failure to achieve political goals through violence had prompted party leaders to rethink the policy of organizing hartals and transportation blockades.

“The BNP secretary-general now offers an olive branch to the government, saying his party wants peace. Street violence and strikes have brought no result …,” Hena told BenarNews.

“If the government extends its support, I think we will see a new beginning in our political culture.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.