Awami League-aligned think tank ‘upset’ with party leadership over inclusion of ‘tainted’...

Awami League-aligned think tank ‘upset’ with party leadership over inclusion of ‘tainted’ nominees for Dec 30 polls

Chandan Nandy,

Even as the Awami League’s rank-and-file across Bangladesh remain angry and confused at the party leadership’s “disturbing” list of candidates nominated to contest the December 30 general election, a think tank close to the ruling establishment has expressed displeasure over distribution of tickets to scores of “tainted” MPs.

Two days after the Awami League made public a list of 230 potential candidates who will contest the forthcoming polls on the party’s ‘boat’ symbol, sources in the Dhaka-based think tank, which had earlier recommended that the party put up candidates with clean image, told the South Asian Monitor that “the nominations are very upsetting and those who we had ‘reservation’ have again been given ticket”.

The sources said that of the 230 names, which were made public a couple of days ago by Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader, there are at least “100 constituencies where MPs with poor track record, including allegations of corruption, have been given tickets again”. This, according to the sources, “bodes ill for the Awami League”.

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“The list of nominated candidates is not satisfactory, and the party is likely to face electoral crisis,” the sources said, adding that of the 200 seats that it had identified previously, the Awami League was expected to perform well in about 130 while the rest would be for the allies to secure, if they can”.

At the same time, the Awami League’s nomination of only 14 (excluding five from Christian and Buddhist communities) Hindu candidates has peeved the minority. Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council general secretary Rana Dasgupta, speaking to the South Asian Monitor over phone, said that he “fears that considering the high levels of anti-incumbency and the Awami League’s tacit alliance with the Hefazat-e-Islam, Hindus may vote in good number for the BNP this time”. Besides, positive signals from the BNP, that it would set up a separate ministry for minority affairs if it came to power, could push some Hindu voters towards it, Dasgupta said.

Dasgupta said that the council had demanded 31 seats for minority candidates from the Awami League, but the party, after progressively reducing the number, considered only 18 (14 Hindus, three Buddhists and one Christian). “The Hindus are disappointed and they are very worried,” Dasgupta said, adding that “Hindu MPs against whom there were serious allegations of corruption have found their way back in the list of Awami League nominees”. As many as 16 MPs belonging to the minority community are scandal-tainted, Dasgupta said, hoping that H M Ershad’s Jatiya Party might nominate some candidates from the minority communities.

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The Awami League’s problems are expected to compound, not just because of the “angry” minorities, but also because of ‘rebels’ in the form of senior leaders sidelined by the party. Speaking to the South Asian Monitor over phone from Dhaka, veteran Awami League leader and former information minister Professor Abu Sayeed admitted that he has “filed nomination from Dr Kamal Hossain’s JatiyaOikkyo Front (National Unity Front)”.

Prof Sayeed, who will contest the election from Pabna-1 constituency, where the Jamaat-e-Islami’s presence is strong, said that he “expects to, inshallah, get the support of not only the BNP but also the JeI”. Other senior leaders who were not re-nominated were said to be sulking and could act against the party’s electoral interests across several constituencies.

According to reports, scores of potential Awami League ‘nominees’ across several constituencies will contest the polls as rebel candidates, even as the party leadership has warned that strict action against them will be taken in the event that they defy organisational diktats. Other Awami League hopefuls, who were denied ticket, said that they would try to maintain party “discipline”.

Till the evening of November 27, few “changes” sought to the Awami League’s original list of candidates by the Dhaka-based think tank could be achieved. There are reports that the Awami League leadership, under pressure from ticket claimants, especially in the backdrop of the public and activists’ resentment at the constituency level, has effected 10 changes. Of these, five were in Chandpur-2 where Nurul Amin Ruhul was given the ticket in place of Rehabilitation Minister Mofazzul Hossain ‘Maya’, Chandpur-4, Barisal-2, Dhaka-17 and Narail-1.

Speaking to the South Asian Monitor on the condition of anonymity, sources close to the Awami League said that “uncertainty” prevails over the holding of elections. “Things will not become clear before December 8 the last date for withdrawl of of nomination. The Awami League is under pressure from within and as a result the decisionmakers are not being able to manage the situation. Should this prevail too long, the entire election process might get uncertain,” the sources said.

Even as the pulls and pressures within the Awami League show little signs of abating, the Dhaka-based think tank’s assessment is that the holding of elections will also depend on how “strong” the National Unity Front of Dr Kamal Hossain remains. “If the ruling establishment sees that the Front is being able to stand unified, the election process might come to a halt. On the other hand, cracks in the Front will encourage the Awami League to go ahead with the process,” a senior-level political analyst in the think tank said.

The Awami League’s problems are likely to persist because of the “lack of any signal” on which way the Jatiya Party will swing. Amid reports that an ‘ailing’ Ershad is expected to leave for Singapore for ‘treatment’, the Jatiya Party has indicated that it would prefer to contest the elections across 200 seats.

Awami League sources at top and middle level of the party hierarchy exuded confidence that even as “a degree of uncertainty prevails”, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is “determined” to hold the polls, especially “when she knows that the government did focus on economic and social development over the last 10 years or so”. They admitted that while there “is anti-incumbency, the party would be able to tide over these difficulties on the ground in the coming days”.