Chattogram Division: AL aiming high in BNP bastion
History says Chattogram division is a bastion of the BNP.
The party here beat its rival Awami League in three out of the four battles of ballots since 1991. The one time it lost was not a humiliating defeat.
It was the BNP that almost removed AL's representation from the region in the 2001 parliamentary polls by taking a record 50 out of the 59 seats. The AL managed four seats, its lowest ever in the region since 1991 when democracy was restored.
When the AL dealt the BNP a humbling defeat across the country in 2008, the BNP still did reasonably well in Chattogram. The people of Chattogram gave the BNP 18 seats, more than half of the total it got countrywide. The AL that won two-thirds majority nationally was able to obtain 32 seats here.
In 1996 polls, when the BNP was defeated nationally, it was still able to secure more seats than the AL in Chattogram. The BNP won 34 seats while the AL 23 in that election.
In the January 2014 election, the AL candidates fared best ever in the region emerging victorious in 43 seats with the BNP out of the race. Even with practically a walkover polls, the AL could not break the BNP's record of 50 seats in the region.
The situation on the ground now is different. Poor presence of BNP activists in the field against an overwhelming number of ruling party ones may lead someone to conclude that the AL has established dominance in the region.
Like other areas of the country, parliamentary aspirants of the AL and their supporters are vigorously campaigning in all constituencies in the region. They have pasted posters, placed placards, and are using billboards to highlight the successes of the AL-led government.
“Chattogram division is no more a stronghold of the BNP-Jamaat as the incumbent government have completed a lot of development work here,” said Enamul Haq Shamim, AL's organising secretary for Chattogram division.
“I have data of 16 districts in the division which shows that 92 percent representatives of local government bodies have been elected with the symbol of boat. So, there is no scope to say that Chattogram division is a stronghold of the BNP-Jamaat,” claims Shamim.
The BNP boycotting the last election and cases filed against its leaders and activists in connection with violence during the street agitation against the government put the party's grassroots in an awkward situation.
“At least 20 cases were filed against over 200 leaders and activists in the last 15 days and most of them are ghost cases. Even I am facing 46 cases,” Shahadat Hossain, president of BNP Chattogram city unit, told The Daily Star on the second week of October.
He said at least 100 cases were filed with each of the 15 police stations in the city over the last five years and 200 or more BNP leaders and activists were accused in each of the cases.
Moreover, the party has yet to formally announce whether it will run.
Yet, its parliamentary aspirants in all constituencies are carrying out campaigns but not on a large scale.
The BNP wants to reassert its dominance in region.
“People will deliver their judgement against enforced disappearances, murders, lootings of public money, and unplanned development misusing public money through the ballot,” said BNP assistant organising secretary for Chattogram division Harunur Rashid.
“The BNP will get more seats than before in this division if the polls are held on a level-playing field,” he told The Daily Star.
In Chattogram and Cox's Bazar districts, a number of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders are preparing to run. Jamaat, a major component of the BNP-led alliance, cannot participate in the polls as it lost its registration with the Election Commission.
Jamaat leaders may either contest as independents or use the electoral symbol of the BNP, party insiders said.
In the region, the Jatiya Party performed well in 1991 when it obtained 12 seats. But the party's performance kept declining in the three subsequent elections until it won seven seats in 2014. A couple of senior leaders of JP are preparing to contest the upcoming polls.
Chattogram division had 78 seats in the 1991 election and in 1995 Sylhet division was carved out reducing Chattogram's seats to 59. The division lost yet another seat ahead of the 2008 parliamentary election when constituencies were redrawn.
In three hill districts -- Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachhari -- the Parbatya Chattogram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS), a CHT-based political party led by Santu Larma, has emerged as a concern for the AL and the BNP. The three districts have one seat each.
“We must contest the elections of course, but we are waiting for the final word from our leader,” said KS Mong Marma, former president of the PCJSS Bandarban unit.
PCJSS Vice President Ushatan Talukder had beaten AL's Dipankar Talukdar, the former state minister of CHT affairs, as an independent in Rangamati in 2014.
No other indigenous political parties are campaigning.
If the PCJSS backs candidates, they could haunt the candidates of the two major political parties. On top of the PCJSS worry, the AL and the BNP has potential rebels to deal with. Multiple aspirants in each of the constituencies are campaigning.
More than 200 AL leaders, in addition to the party's incumbent MPs in the region, are campaigning for AL nominations.
“There is no rivalry or rift in the party over nomination. Rather, there is a healthy competition among the leaders which is very natural in a large party like the AL,” Enamul Haq Shamim told The Daily Star.
“Sheikh Hasina is watching and she is concerned with the image of the leaders in the areas and she would decide who would be nominated,” he added.
The number of parliamentary aspirants seems fewer in the BNP camp as 125 leaders are preparing to run. The number may increase if the party announces that it would contest the polls.