AL turns back the clock ‘to compromise’

Ershad’s U-turn made the ruling party change the game plan

As part of a “compromise” deal with its once ally Jatiya Party, the Awami League has allegedly pressured many of its candidates to withdraw nominations so that JaPa candidates could be elected uncontested. In many such constituencies, letters were sent to the returning officers instructing them to accept withdrawal applications from Awami League candidates. Some of these letters were reportedly signed by HT Imam, adviser to the prime minister and co-chairman of the Awami League’s Election Steering Committee. The last date for withdrawing nomination was Friday, December 13. The process is to file an application telling the respective returning officer that the candidate did not wish to contest the polls anymore. Reportedly, in many of these constituencies, where JaPa leaders were wanted, the Awami League candidates refused to withdraw nominations. There are allegations that some of these candidates were forced to withdraw their nominations and the returning officers were instructed to accept their withdrawal applications even if it was after December 13. Some of these nomination withdrawal papers, submitted after that date, were reportedly accepted with retrospective effect. For example, an application dated December 12 and submitted on December 14 was accepted. The Awami League “compromised” these seats to ensure JaPa’s participation and a credible look for the upcoming polls. Sources said the Election Commission took more than usual in finalising the list of “elected uncontested” candidates because of those “compromised” constituencies. Remarkably, the names of three JaPa candidates M Shawkat Chowdhury from Nilphamari 4, Moshiur Rahman Ranga from Rangpur 1 and Fakhrul Imam from Mymensingh 8 were sent to the EC on Sunday, two days after the deadline for nomination withdrawal. After having joined the “all party” interim government, JaPa chief HM Ershad, in a sudden U-turn, announced on December 4 that he and his party could not join the polls unless participation of all parties was ensured. The unexpected announcement reportedly forced the Awami League to change its game plan and contact Ershad’s wife Rawshan, a presidium member of Japa. Rawshan was one from a group of JaPa leaders who did not want to pull out of the polls. However, frightened by the attacks on some of the Awami League candidates during the ongoing political unrest, Rawshan did not want to risk the lives of the JaPa leaders, who were with her. Sources said she settled on a deal of 60 uncontested seats, including one for herself, to be elected uncontested so that they needed not to run campaigns on the field. Up until December 13, a total of “only” 11 JaPa candidates were elected uncontested, which outraged Rawshan. Sources from the two parties said senior Awami League leaders Tofail Ahmed and Gowher Rizvi went to Rawshan’s house and managed to convince her. Later, the Awami League instructed many of its candidates to withdraw their nomination papers. As of yesterday, a total of 21 JaPa candidates have been elected uncontested. Zafar Alam, a former Awami League candidate from Cox’s Bazar 1 constituency, told the Dhaka Tribune that they had no option but to withdraw. “The leader [Sheikh Hasina] gave us nomination. It was she again who instructed her to withdraw.” When asked what date his nomination withdrawal application was marked with, Zafar smiled and said: “My nomination withdrawal application was dated December 13.” He also said: “This is not the last election. We may have another one within a year or two. Bless me so that I can get nomination for that election.” Former Awami League nominee Ragebul Ahsan Ripu from Bogra 6 said: “Central command’s instruction for me was to withdraw nomination if JaPa candidate did not. Since the JaPa candidate did not withdraw nomination, I withdrew.” The Awami League leader claimed that he filed withdrawal application at 8pm Friday, although the deadline was 5pm. Awami League Presidium Member Begum Motia Chowdhury, also agriculture minister of the polls-time government, told the Dhaka Tribune that they had not been hiding anything; the prime minister had sacrificed for the sake of democracy. “We left some seats to them [JaPa]. Moreover, if Khaleda Zia joined the polls, we would not have nominated anyone in her constituency,” Motia said. She claimed that the delay in placing withdrawal papers was systemic, rather than anything else.