Ending weeks of speculations, four BNP MPs yesterday took oath in line with the party decision, although party Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, who has also been elected, did not do so.
With them, five of the six BNP MPs have now joined parliament.
The four are Abdus Sattar Bhuiyan (Brahmanbaria-2), Harunur Rashid (Chapainawabganj-3), Mosharrof Hossain (Bogura-4) and Aminul Islam (Chapainawabganj-2).
Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury administered the oath at her parliament office at 5:00pm.
Earlier on Thursday, Zahidur Rahman (Thakurgaon-3) took oath, becoming the first BNP MP to do so. However, he was expelled from the party only two days later for violating the party decision.
The BNP and its Jatiya Oikyafront ally Gonoforum rejected the December 30 election results, citing irregularities and vote rigging. The BNP Standing Committee, the party’s highest policymaking body, had also decided not to join parliament.
Under constitutional provisions, yesterday was the last day for taking oath. However, the 90-day deadline may be extended with the Speaker’s approval.
‘NO RULE OF LAW’
Soon after taking oath, the BNP MPs said they joined parliament on instructions from Tarique Rahman, who is acting as the party chairman in his mother’s absence.
“We have come to parliament to take oath in line with the party decision, especially on instructions from Tarique Rahman,” Harunur Rashid, also a joint secretary general of the BNP, told reporters.
Replying to a query, he said they did not join parliament to give it legitimacy.
“There is no rule of law and good governance in the country. An anarchic situation is prevailing in the country at present. We have come to parliament to speak about these issues,” he said.
Asked why Fakhrul did not do the same, he said he was not in a position to answer that and advised journalists to talk to Fakhrul instead.
Later at a press conference, Fakhrul said they opted to join parliament to speak about democracy and Khaleda Zia’s release.
“Decisions may change in politics,” he said.
Party sources said their joining the House was part of a negotiation with the government to have Khaleda, now in jail after conviction in a corruption case, freed.
“Now we have to see when and how Khaleda Zia is released,” said a senior leader wishing anonymity.
BNP sources also confirmed that Fakhrul wrote to the Speaker requesting her to extend the time for taking oath, citing illness.
The Speaker said she had no information about this, while Fakhrul avoided a direct reply.
“Wait and you will come to know in time,” he told reporters when asked about the letter.
At the press conference at the BNP chairperson’s Gulshan office about two hours after the oath-taking ceremony, Fakhrul said they decided to join parliament as part of their movement to free Khaleda and restore democracy in the country.
Fakhrul is usually flanked by standing committee members and other senior party leaders during press conferences. But yesterday, there were no other leaders at his side.
The BNP won six out of the 300 parliamentary seats in the December 30 election. The Gonoforum, a partner in the BNP-led Jatiya Oikyafront, bagged only two.
On numerous occasions, including on the election day, the alliance rejected the “farcical” election, demanded fresh polls and said they would not join parliament.
But suddenly, Gonoforum MP Sultan Monsur took oath on March 7. He was subsequently expelled from the party.
The other Gonoforum MP Mokabbir Khan took oath on April 2, although the party did not expel him.
Ever since, rumours have been swirling in political circles that the BNP MPs would follow suit as part of a negotiation with the government for Khaleda’s release.
A number of media outlets, including The Daily Star, have also run reports in this regard.
But in public, senior party leaders, including Fakhrul, dismissed those reports.
In the wake of Zahidur’s oath, the party’s Standing Committee held a series of meetings on Saturday and Sunday with its other MPs to keep them from joining the House, sources said.
On Saturday, the BNP decided to stick to its pervious decision not to take oath.
Then on Sunday night, the standing committee held an emergency meeting where Tarique, who joined the meeting via video conference, sought the opinions of senior leaders on the matter, two standing committee members said.
All the standing committee members present said they were against joining parliament, but vested Tarique with all powers to make the decision, they added.
Tarique then held one-to-one to meeting with three BNP MPs -- Abdus Sattar, Harunur Rashid and Aminul Islam.
While Tarique spoke with the other BNP MP Mosharrof Hossain, there was no such discussion with Fakhrul, according to the sources.
Then on Monday noon, Tarique gave the go-ahead to join parliament, which surprised some of the standing committee members, the sources said.
“There must be some reasons behind such a sudden decision. I think everything will be clear in a few days,” said a senior leader, requesting anonymity.
Talking to reporters after taking oath, Rashid said the current parliament was not truly representing the people.
“The present government is not elected through people’s votes and there are controversies over this election,” he said.
“We have come to parliament to speak the truth. The country is in crisis. This parliament has been formed through vote-rigging. The country’s democratic system has been destroyed. The government will have to fix it,” said Rashid.
He also said Khaleda had been sent to jail through a “dictated” verdict. She is not getting bail even though people convicted of heinous and graver crimes are out on bail.
About Zahidur’s expulsion, Rashid said that Zahid offered his apology to Tarique.
“He [Zahid] told him [Tarique] that he made a mistake. He should have waited for the party decision. He has offered an apology for this. He will also offer his apology in writing. The party might consider his apology,” said Rashid.
OATH UNDER PRESSURE?
On Friday, Fakhrul said they were under pressure from the government to take oath, although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina dismissed the claim only hours later.
Yesterday, BBC Bangla and Bangla daily Prothom Alo quoted Harunur Rashid as saying that there was indeed pressure from the government.
But when asked if the BNP changed its mind under pressure from the government, Fakhrul said, “No, there was no pressure.”
He then immediately went on to add: “We are under huge pressure. There is no democracy, we are barred from speaking out. Our leader is in jail. Are these not pressure from the government?”
Asked about reported negotiation with the government, he said, “Where do you find compromise? We have said that we want to place our demand inside and outside of parliament. There is a space in parliament as of today, and that’s why our lawmakers have taken oath.”
On whether the BNP is giving legitimacy to this parliament, Fakhrul said, “We are not giving any legitimacy. We are using the democratic space as part of the democratic practice as well as for strategic reasons.”
In politics decision may change, he noted.
Joining parliament, Harunur Rashid in his maiden speech demanded Khaleda’s release.
“We request you [Hasina] to release our leader from jail. If you release our leader, we, the five BNP MPs who joined parliament, can at least tell the people that the prime minister freed our leader as a result of our joining parliament,” he said.
Hasina was present in the House, but made no response.
“Hold the trial, but do not deprive her of the right to getting bail,” he said.
He also demanded the restoration of democracy, saying that the electoral system had collapsed.
“I would like to request our leader (Sheikh Hasina) to take prompt measures to solve the present crisis in the country…. Though we’re very small in number in parliament, the reality is that …the people of the country are confined and helpless today. The democratic rights of the people have been snatched,” he said.