A day after returning from Singapore, Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad in a sudden move yesterday announced that his party leaders contesting from “open seats” would support the ruling Awami League-led grand alliance candidates.
At an emergency press conference at his Baridhara President Park residence, he also announced quitting the race for Dhaka-17 and extended support to the AL contender in the constituency -- silver screen star Akbar Hossain Pathan, popularly known as Farooque.
Ershad, also a special envoy to the prime minister, however, said “strong candidates” of his party would stay in the race.
He did not go into details.
“From now on, Jatiya Party candidates will work hand in hand with the grand alliance contenders. Jatiya Party candidates contesting in open seats will extend their support to grand alliance candidates expressing solidarity with my sister Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,” he said.
“My condition is not good. I am back for my sister Sheikh Hasina,” he said at the briefing around 5:00pm. “We are happy with the existing atmosphere for the election. A free and fair election will be held in the country.”
He said apart from the grand alliance candidates, those who are still running under the JP banner must quit the race for the sake of the alliance.
“We all will have to work unitedly to ensure victory of the alliance.”
He said the grand alliance would surely win as “the BNP's history was not good”.
Earlier, Farooque had visited Ershad at his home seeking his blessings.
Interestingly, a JP press release sent around 9:00pm and signed by Ershad claimed that he was misquoted by different media outlets.
“Except the seats of grand alliance, Jatiya Party candidates will contest freely in their respective constituencies with plough, the electoral symbol of the Jatiya Party,” the statement said.
“No one will quit the election race. They [JP leaders] were instructed to remain on the election field,” Ershad was quoted as saying in the statement.
Talking to The Daily Star earlier in the day, JP Presidium Member SM Faysal Chisti said, “This election will be very tough and competitive. If each of the Jatiya Party candidates gets at least five to six thousand votes, it can create problems for the grand alliance candidates. That's why the party chairman took the decision [of supporting grand alliance candidates].”
But the stance of Ershad and his party on the issue was different two weeks ago.
Aggrieved at getting only 29 seats from the ruling AL, the JP on December 9, the last date for withdrawal of nomination papers, decided to field its candidates in 145 other constituencies.
Of the 145, at least 100 constituencies will see the AL face its ally JP alongside the BNP-led opposition alliances.
It means those 145 seats are open to the partners of the grand alliance. Whoever wins can later be part of the combine if it forms the government.
According to the lists submitted to the Election Commission, the AL is contesting in 258 seats, Workers Party in five, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Inu) and Bikalpadhara Bangladesh in three each, Tarikat Federation and Jatiya Party (Manju) in two each, and Bangladesh Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Ambia) in one.
So, the JP has actually been given 27 seats, since it would have an AL challenger in Kurigram-1 and a Workers Party rival in Barishal-3, added the leaders.
The AL did not agree to give Kurigram-1 to JP and tried to make the Workers Party happy by giving it Barishal-3, sources in the ruling party said.
Ershad had been disappointed as the AL nominated Farooque in Dhaka-17, one of the two constituencies Ershad was to run from.
On December 3, following seat-sharing negotiations with the AL, Ershad replaced JP Secretary General ABM Ruhul Amin Hawlader with state minister for LGRD Moshiur Rahman Ranga.
JP insiders said Ershad brought the sudden change to get an edge in the negotiations as Ranga had good relationships with government high-ups.
But getting only 29 seats disappointed the JP chief, they said yesterday.
Five days after Hawlader was replaced, Ershad appointed him as his special assistant with the status “next to the JP chairman”.
After over two weeks of “medical check-up” in a Singapore hospital, Ershad returned Wednesday night.
He, for the first time since December 6, appeared before the public yesterday. His absence during almost the entire campaign raised many questions.
Ershad, known as an unpredictable character in the political arena, has a record of playing mysterious roles.
In the middle of November, Ershad became unreachable for most of the party ranks for several days as he stayed in a house at Gulshan instead of his residence in Baridhara.
In 2006, he went into hiding facing pressure from the then ruling BNP to join its alliance. On December 18 that year, he suddenly appeared at a Paltan Maidan rally organised by AL, and announced his decision to join the AL-led alliance.
Ershad led his party to remain in the AL-led grand alliance to contest the 9th parliamentary election in 2008, held two years behind schedule due to the state of emergency declared amid political turmoil.
In the 2014 national election, Ershad announced that the JP would not participate in the election and asked his party's candidates to withdraw their nomination papers.
Raising questions and confusions, he was taken to the CMH from his Baridhara residence on December 12, 2013.
However, a section of JP leaders decided to join the polls. The party chairman was elected as a lawmaker in the January 5 polls as he could not withdraw his candidacy from Rangpur-3.
From CMH, where he had been staying for unknown “illness”, Ershad directly went to the Bangabhaban to attend the oath-taking ceremony of the prime minister and ministers of the new government on January 12, 2014.
On the same day, he was appointed special envoy of the prime minister with the status of a minister. Three of his party lawmakers were inducted into the council of ministers.
In the wake of criticism against his party for being in the opposition and in the cabinet at the same time, Ershad on several occasions in recent years said he would ask the three party men to step down as ministers paving the way for JP to emerge as the real opposition.