It was all set.
The Jatiya Party was going to unveil the final list of candidates at a press conference around 8:00pm yesterday. Journalists and senior JP leaders had already started arriving at the party chief's Banani office for the event.
But things took a dramatic turn just about half an hour before the press conference. JP leaders said it has been postponed.
In no time, a press release was sent to the media announcing that JP Chairman HM Ershad has made party presidium member and lawmaker Ruhul Amin Hawlader his special assistant.
And the new status of Hawlader is “next to the JP chairman.”
In a similar move, less than four weeks before the December 30 election, Ershad on December 3 removed Hawlader as the party secretary general and replaced him with State Minister for LGRD Moshiur Rahman Ranga.
A number of JP presidium members last night told this newspaper that they were totally confused as to what was going on in the party and who actually ran the organisation.
“As the secretary general, Ranga is the party's second-in-command. But now Hawlader got a position that is next to chairman. So who is actually the second-in-command?” a JP senior leader asked.
In the press release signed by Ershad, it was mentioned that Hawlader would carry out the party's entire organisational activities in the absence of the party chairman.
The JP boss took the decision as per section 20/1/Ka of the party charter and it will take immediate effect, read the release.
It comes a day after Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader on Friday formally announced that 40 to 42 seats were left for JP to contest the 11th parliamentary polls.
Following Quader's announcement, JP Secretary General Ranga asked around 20 party aspirants to come to the Banani office on Saturday (yesterday) to receive letters that have to be submitted to returning officers to get the party's electoral symbol “plough.”
Yesterday was very crucial for the party as today is the last day for withdrawing candidacy.
But at least 15 aspirants waited at the Banani office throughout the day but Ranga was a no-show, a JP leader present there told The Daily Star.
Wishing anonymity, a number of JP leaders said although Quader announced that 40 to 42 seats were left for JP, it was actually 30 to 35 including seven that will “remain open”.
In those seven seats, the leaders explained, both AL and JP will contest the election. Two AL leaders also confirmed this to The Daily Star.
This seat-sharing made Ershad, who is now at Dhaka Combined Military Hospital, very unhappy, insiders said.
Earlier, Ershad changed his secretary general as Hawlader failed to convince the ruling AL to leave two seats for JP heavyweights -- lawmakers Ziauddin Ahmed Bablu and Salma Islam.
The JP chief made Ranga the second-in-command as the state minister is considered close to the AL high-ups.
But Ranga's failure to “manage adequate seats for the party” also angered Ershad, said sources.
Last week, several top JP leaders categorically told this paper that AL will leave 40 to 45 seats for them though they demanded 50.
In the current parliament, JP has 40 lawmakers, including five elected to seats reserved for women. So party leaders became enraged at the high-ups including Ershad for the failure to manage at least 40 seats.
A JP presidium member says the final decision on the seat-sharing would be made after Obaidul Quader returns from Noakhali tonight (last night). The AL general secretary was yet to be back in the capital as of 10:30pm.
On April 10, 2014, Hawlader was fired as secretary general, which he had been holding since 2002. Ershad appointed Bablu to the post in recognition of his “significant role” in the party.
Three years later, the JP boss removed Bablu from the position over negligence in duty and reinstated Hawlader.