BNP: a party for the supremo | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 01, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

BNP: a party for the supremo

BNP: a party for the supremo

The BNP was formed in 1978 with the aim of giving military ruler Gen Ziaur Rahman institutional support.

At the beginning, therefore, the party's charter gave the military ruler absolute power to run it at will, without keeping any room for the practice of intra-party democracy.

The party's current chief enjoys almost the same absolute authority as there was hardly any move to democratise the organisation over the last 36 years. And the lack of democratic practices has also been blamed for the severe organisational weaknesses that the party, which turns 37 today, faces now.

When Gen Zia formed the BNP, he was the most powerful president in the country's history. He held the post of army chief and chief martial law administrator alongside being president. That was a bizarre means of exercising authority, which was later followed by Gen HM Ershad to grab state power.

The process that Zia began through a controversial referendum known as "Yes"/"No" vote in 1977 to ascertain people's confidence in him and his policies ended with the BNP's formation within a year.

The way the BNP was formed and Zia was given absolute power over the party exposed the character of the military ruler, who took over less than two years after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the overthrow of his government on August 15, 1975.

Under Zia's instructions, the Jatiya Ganatantrik Dal [Nationalist Democratic Party] was floated in February 1978, enticing leaders from different political parties.

Justice Abdus Sattar was chosen its convenor when he was the country's vice president, an office he reportedly came by as a reward for siding with Zia in the latter's move to take over the office of CMLA and the presidency from Justice Sayem.

Later, he formed the Jatiyatabadi Front [Nationalist Front], persuading politicians from different parties to join him, and contested the presidential election as a candidate of the front in June 1978. At the election, General M.A.G. Osmany, C-in-C of the Bangladesh Forces during the War of Liberation, was Zia's rival.

Only a couple of months after his electoral victory, Gen Zia dissolved the front and the Jatiya Ganatantrik Dal in September, and floated a new party, the Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Dal -- BNP.

The BNP charter gave him absolute power to control and run the party.

Asked about the possible reasons behind the move, a senior BNP leader yesterday told The Daily Star that Gen Zia had a feeling of insecurity about whether he would have any control over the party after leaving the offices of army chief and CMLA.

"Therefore, the party charter gave him absolute authority, assuring him of his position in the BNP," the BNP leader said on condition of anonymity.

At the 1979 parliamentary elections, the BNP led by Zia won a two-thirds majority. The parliament controlled by the BNP passed the Fifth Amendment to the constitution by indemnifying the illegal takeover of state power by Zia and his predecessors Moshtaque and Sayem and all activities of the trio during the period of the martial law regime. 

The BNP charter has remained almost the same over the past 36 years, allowing Zia's widow Khaleda Zia, who has been leading the party for three decades, to emerge as the party's supreme leader.

At least the holding of elections to the party committees at all levels gave party men the scope for practising democracy within. Those included the national executive and standing committees.

The BNP had to introduce this provision by curtailing some powers of the chief to get registered with the Election Commission as a parliamentary party in 2008.

But the party leaders proved their sycophancy at the 2009 national council by empowering Khaleda to pick individuals of her choice for the posts.

The BNP has been more fortunate than all other political parties in the country. It assumed power five times and stayed in power for around 15 years out of its 36 years in existence.

Its archrival Awami League, which led the country's Liberation War, assumed power four times and has been in power for around 14 years out of its 66 years as a political party.

The BNP, for the first time since the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991, is now celebrating its founding anniversary when it is neither in power nor in parliament as the opposition. Its refusal to participate in the January 5 elections under the Sheikh Hasina government left the party out of parliament.

On this occasion, the situation was different for the party than on previous ones.

The BNP led by Khaleda Zia earlier refused to participate in the 1986 parliamentary election under Gen Ershad's martial law regime, though other parties, including the AL, joined the polls.

Along with other major parties, the BNP again boycotted the 1988 elections. The party cashed in on the popularity it gained through the election boycott, and won the 1991 parliamentary election under Khaleda's leadership.

In contrast, the January 5 election boycott has appeared as a nightmare for the party. It failed to resist the polls. Even after the polls, the party could not stage a strong agitation to force the government to negotiate with the opposition.

In the view of many political analysts, the party's movement for a reintroduction of the election time non-partisan caretaker government in 2012 and 2013 failed to generate public support because of the widespread violence that marked the party's performance.

The party's senior leaders are to pay dearly now for the violence as almost all of them are facing criminal cases in connection with the pre-polls violence. 

Over the years, the BNP has not called its national and grassroots-level sessions on a regular basis, thereby deterring the growth of new leadership.

Its failure to hold meetings of different party forums, promote debate and discussions on policy-making in line with democratic norms has also been a stumbling block.

The party has faced turbulent situations in the past. And amid such a situation, Khaleda, who had no experience in politics, was made vice-chairman of the party in March 1983 and was elected chairperson in May 1984.

The party's present state is also blamed on unbridled corruption and misuse of power by many of its leaders during the BNP-led government's tenure between 2001 and 2006. For this, it paid heavily at the December 2008 general elections in which it faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the AL.

Yet, the BNP dreams of returning to power at the next general election, regardless of its organisational weaknesses and some major scandals when it was in power. This is also because of the lack of a credible and strong alternative to the BNP and the AL as well.


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