Awami League infighting to hit party’s vote bank and poll prospects

Awami League infighting to hit party’s vote bank and poll prospects

Chandan Nandy,

Nearly 10 years of uninterrupted governance of the Awami League paved the way for “rule bending” and allowed “carte blanche” to activists to take to “extortion”, besides causing “intra-party factional feuds” and emboldening “criminal activities” which have reached a “critical point”, a classified report prepared by some Western interests in Bangladesh has revealed.

According to this exhaustive report accessed by the South Asian Monitor, the “escalating criminal activities” of Awami League “activists and leaders” has “contributed to the rising anti-AL sentiment(s) among the populace” in Bangladesh. While Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s “dependence on the bureaucracy and security establishment to achieve political supremacy eventually” led to this downslide, the “context of a depleted opposition exacerbated frictions with the party and gave rise to competing factions,” the no-holds-barred report says.

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This report is validated by a Prothom Alo news story of September 8, which claims that even as Awami League worthies are deeply concerned about the “infighting” over poll nomination, ticker hopefuls have “declared three AL members of parliament (MPs) ‘persona non grata’ in the past 12 days in three different constituencies in Barguna and Dinajpur”. Indeed, the issue of infighting was the main subject of discussion in a September 6 meeting of the Awami League’s working committee chaired by Hasina.

The prime minister is said to have instructed that “show cause” notices be served on errant leaders seeking out-of-turn nominations or claiming to be the rightful ticket-holders and thereby causing rift among the rank and file. However, the threat of disciplinary action has not dissuaded some aspirants from projecting themselves as the official nominees in most of the constituencies, causing uncertainty at crucial juncture before the December elections.

The report by the Western interests comes at a time when several foreign powers, including the United States, some countries of the European Unionare acting in concert to make efforts aimed at pushing the ruling Awami League to hold credible and free and fair general elections in Bangladesh. Hasina has so far stuck to her ground and has shown no signs of curbing restrictions on her political rivals, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The report is a SWOT assessment compiled from “discussions” with a prominent economist, a senior journalist and a senior political analyst of Bangladesh.

Although Hasina went on record on September 2 to dismiss negative reports surrounding the elections and assured Bangladeshis of a free and fair poll and welcomed the alignment of a range of opposition parties, projecting this move as definite signs of competitive polls, the report paints a grim picture of intra-party rivalries which from time to time have erupted in violence. Hasina, who is fully aware of the dissensions within the Awami League, has on earlier occasions warned lower-rung leaders to fall in line or face strict disciplinary action.

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Revealing “internal problems” of the Awami League, the damning report says that “everyone seems to be wanting to become an MP. A distorted competition to woo party higher echelons into gaining party nomination is ongoing. About 3,000 such party activists and/or individuals affiliated with the AL are involved in this. Some of them are sons/daughters whose fathers were MPs at one point of time…Without having any political background, connections with the people or party endorsement, they are speaking to the media and holding public meetings, declaring that they are the next candidates for the MP seats”.

The report goes further to claim that “most of these ‘wannabe’ MPs are throwing around huge amounts of money for publicity and activist mobilization. This will further strengthen the commercialization of politics that is riddled with deep-rooted patron-client structure”. Highlighting revelations made in the Awami League’s “internal organizational reports”, the document says that “more than 4,500 individuals are expecting to receive party MP nomination for the 300 seats”.

“The party has witnessed violence between rival members/activists in all local elections in the last few years,” the report notes, adding that “many rebel leaders of the AL in various districts contested in previous local government polls as independent candidates after not being nominated as party candidates”. Indicating that relationships among Awami League leaders is tenuous, the report observes that though some of the rebels were “expelled from the party, they were welcomed back after they secured victory” (in the polls).

Apprehending poor performance on the part of the Awami League in the forthcoming elections, the report, based on insightful and indepth interactions between the authors and a host of unnamed ruling party leaders and “insiders”, says that “internal feuds fester” and these are cause of real concern for the leadership ahead of the polls. “If such feuds occur during national elections, the AL’s confirmed vote bank will be undercut,” the report warns. Such a scenario was projected by at least four Awami League leaders when they spoke privately to this this correspondent on a recent visit to Dhaka.

Sounding another warning, the report says that the Awami League’s youth wings (the Juba League, especially) and other activists’ criminal activities, widespread extortion and rampant violent activities will cause the swing voters to vote in opposition to the AL”.

Painting a grim future before actual polling takes place, most likely toward the of December, the report predicts that the Awami League “would rather ensure a victory through unfair means than allow a viable political opposition ‘an inch that it may convert into a mile’”. In this endeavour, the report, quoting a wide cross-section of Bangladeshi sources—political, social and government—says that the “AL’s intentions may well be supported by its geopolitical ally India as it did in 2014”.