You can call it a typical Jatiya Party flip-flop.
Just a day after the JP Parliamentary Party decided to join the Awami League-led grand alliance government, HM Ershad came up with a decision exactly the opposite.
The JP chairman said the party will be the main opposition in parliament with no representation in the new cabinet. He will act as the leader of the opposition while his younger brother and JP Co-Chairman GM Quader as deputy leader of the opposition.
Ershad made the sudden announcement through a statement that was sent to different media outlets yesterday, contradicting the decision the Parliamentary Party unanimously took in a meeting on Thursday.
"Since we participated in the election under the banner of the Awami League-led grand alliance, we want to join the government. Who will sit on the opposition bench is not our concern," GM Quader told journalists after the meeting.
He also said, "We doubt if people will accept us as the opposition if we quit the grand alliance now to play the role of the opposition.... We don't want to sit on the opposition bench … This is a practical problem for us.”
Twenty-two party leaders, except for Ershad, were present at the meeting. Earlier on Thursday, the JP chief couldn't take oath “due to illness” at a ceremony where the rest 21 were sworn in as lawmakers of the 11th parliament.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, several JP lawmakers termed Ershad's decision funny and arbitrary.
“The Jatiya Party Parliamentary Party unanimously decided that the party will remain in the grand alliance government. If the party wants to stay in the opposition, the JP Parliamentary Party will sit again to make a decision in this regard. The party's chairman cannot take the decision arbitrarily. His decision is nothing but funny,” a JP lawmaker told this correspondent, wishing anonymity.
The JP lawmaker, who is also the party's presidium member, said according to the party charter, the JP Parliamentary Party, not the chairman, can elect the party leader and deputy leader in parliament.
Another lawmaker and JP presidium member said a few party leaders might have misguided Ershad.
“Sir [Ershad] is not in good health as his physical condition deteriorated recently. A few JP leaders took this opportunity to misguide him and persuade him to issue the announcement.
"We took part in the December 30 election under the banner of the AL-led grand alliance. We will have to talk with the partners in the grand alliance if we want to act as the opposition party.
“With 22 seats in parliament, we are not sure whether the government will acknowledge us as the opposition party because at least one-tenth of the total seats are required to be considered as the main opposition party.”
He said with 22 MPs, JP may be considered as an opposition group, not the opposition party. “That's why we first need to talk to the government.”
In his statement, Ershad yesterday said: "As the chairman of the Jatiya Party, I would like to inform the people of the country and party leaders and activists at all levels that Jatiya Party will act as the main opposition party in the 11th parliament."
He further said, "As the chairman of Jatiya Party Parliamentary Party, I'll be the leader of the opposition while party co-chairman Golam Quader deputy opposition leader of the House. No Jatiya Party MP will be there in the cabinet. I urge the Speaker of the House to take necessary steps in this regard."
In the December 30 polls, the AL-led grand alliance secured 288 seats. JP, a key component of the alliance, bagged 22. The BNP-led Jatiya Oikyafront managed to win only seven seats while independent candidates got three.
The election in Gaibandha-3 was rescheduled for January 27 following the death of a candidate, and re-polling will take place in three centres in Brahmanbaria-2 on January 9.
The Jatiya Oikyafront has announced that its MPs-elect will not take oath as the alliance rejected the polls results, alleging that the election was rigged by the ruling party.
Against this backdrop, there was a speculation that the JP may sit on the opposition bench.
The JP became the main opposition in the current parliament formed after the 2014 election, which the BNP-led alliance had boycotted.
The JP in that election won 34 seats and its senior leader Raushan Ershad was recognised as the leader of the opposition with the status of a minister. Three JP MPs were also made ministers.
Their dual role has been criticised. The party could not play its due role as the main opposition in parliament in the last five years.
Ershad, known as an unpredictable character in the political arena, has a record of playing mysterious roles.
In the middle of November, he became unreachable for most of the party ranks over 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 the 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 the schedule due to the state of emergency declared amid political turmoil.
Before the 10th national election, Ershad announced that the JP would not participate in the election and asked his party's candidates to withdraw their nomination papers.
Giving rise to 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 in 2014 as he could not withdraw his candidacy from Rangpur-3.
From the 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 the JP to emerge as the real opposition.