After weeks of talks and intense negotiations, the BNP and three other political parties formally launched an alliance called Jatiya Oikyafront yesterday, just months before the national election.
The alliance, which also includes Dr Kamal Hossain-led Jatiya Oikya Prokriya, unveiled an 11-point goal and promised to bring sweeping reforms in governance system if voted to power.
"We are making a call for a national unity in the interest of the nation, not for any particular political party. We expect others to join the Jatiya Oikyafront," Dr Kamal told a press conference at the Jatiya Press Club last evening.
"There is no alternative to a free and fair election," he said.
The alliance will operate under a joint leadership, sources said, but gave few details.
The two other partners in the alliance are Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) led by ASM Abdur Rab and Nagorik Oikya led by Mahmudur Rahman Manna, a former Awami League leader.
Both the JSD and Nagorik Oikya are components of Juktofront, which was formed last year under the leadership of former president Prof Badruddoza Chowdhury, who is also president of Bikalpadhara Bangladesh (BDB).
The BDB, the other component of Juktafront, however, is not in the newly formed four-party alliance, saying they would not join forces if the BNP did not cut its ties with Jamaat.
GOALS AND DEMANDS
The 11-point goal announced by the alliance includes ensuring checks and balances in the state power, decentralisation of administration, freeing MPs from the stringent restrictions imposed on them under article 70 of the constitution, formation of a constitutional commission to make appointments to all constitutional and other important posts and full independence of the judiciary.
The alliance also announced a seven-point demand, including the one for holding the next parliamentary election under a nonpartisan government, dissolution of parliament before the polls and recasting the Election Commission.
The unity process was coordinated by a liaison committee. As part of the process, Manna, Rab, and BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, among others, held regular meetings and finalised the demands and goals.
Around two weeks ago, the BNP announced almost identical goals and demands from a rally in the capital.
The development comes just two weeks before the 90-day countdown for the election day begins. Under the constitutional provision introduced in 2011, the polls must be held within 90 days of the expiry of the current parliament. Five-year term of the current parliament expires on October 30.
"The launch of the Jatiya Oikya Front will go down in history as a turning point," BNP Standing Committee Member Moudud Ahmed told the press conference that began around 6:00pm.
Alliance leaders said they would work together to mobilise public support for their demands and goals. They also urged people to get united for their voting and other rights.
Fakhrul Islam Alamgir called on other political parties, which are not in the alliance, to join forces.
"No autocrats will be allowed to come to the power in future," said Abdur Rab, the JSD chief.
BIKALPADHARA KEEPS OFF
At a separate press conference at Bikalpadhara's office in Baridhara around 6:30pm, Prof Badruddoza, a former BNP leader, explained why his party did not join the alliance.
“We gave the BNP a condition that it should cut its ties with the Jamaat, but it did not comply. This is why we did not join the national unity process,” he said.
"Bikalpadhara will not engage in any conspiracy to bring back the BNP to power until it [BNP] cuts its ties with the anti-liberation force [Jamaat] and agrees to bring balance of power in the Jatiya Sangsad," said B Chowdhury, who was forced to step down as president in June 2003 by the then ruling BNP-Jamaat alliance that elected him to presidency.
On September 22, B Chowdhury, who was involved with the process to forge a national unity, shared a stage with Dr Kamal Hossain and several senior BNP leaders when they made a joint announcement to work together for a free and fair election.
But cracks developed when Bikalpadhara Joint Secretary General Mahi B Chowdhury, also B Chowdhury's son, publicly said they would not forge any alliance with any political party having direct or indirect links with the anti-liberation force.
He meant Jamaat-e-Islami's presence in the 20-party alliance, which the BNP leads. He also said that the BNP must share 150 parliament seats out of the 300 with other political parties in the alliance to bring balance of power in the House.
Leaders of the JSD and Nagorik Oikya, however, did not agree to impose such conditions, said sources in the Juktofront.
Then at a meeting at the JSD chief's house on Friday night, Mahi raised his objections again. But he faced strong opposition as Manna, convener of Nagorik Oikya, termed his conditions unrealistic, meeting sources said.
Juktofront, Jatiya Oikyo Prokriya and BNP leaders were scheduled to hold a meeting at Dr Kamal's residence at 3:00pm yesterday, but the programme was postponed abruptly.
Even after the postponement of the meeting, B Chowdhury and his son went to Dr Kamal's Bailey road house.
But they returned as the eminent jurist was at his chamber at the time.
“We went there but no one even opened the door. This sort of behaviour with a former president [B Chowdhury] is devoid of any sort of decency,” Mahi told The Daily Star.
However, a senior leader of the Juktofront said the fate of the Juktofront was sealed after Friday night's meeting and they feared Bikalpadhara leaders may complicate further the whole unity process with their demands.
Therefore, they decided not to hold the scheduled meeting at Dr Kamal's residence. Instead they opted for an alternative.
According to the plan, Mirza Fakhrul, Abdur Rab, Mahmudur Rahman Manna and some other leaders went to meet Dr Kamal at his chamber in Motijheel where they held a meeting.
Fakhrul went to Dr Kamal's chamber at 3:00pm and came out at 3:30pm. He then entered the chamber of Moinul Hossain, a former adviser to a caretaker government.
Fakhrul came out of Moinul's chamber at 4:00pm and entered Dr Kamal's chamber again.
After the meetings, they decided to hold the press conference in the evening to launch the platform, excluding Bikalpadhara, sources said.
The BNP currently leads a 20-party alliance formed in 2012. Before that it led a four-party alliance. Other members of that alliance were Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh Jatiya Party and Islami Oikya Jote.
The four-party alliance, formed in 1999, won two-thirds majority in the 2001 parliamentary election. The 20-party alliance, however, boycotted the last parliamentary election held in 2014 as their demand for restoration of the nonpartisan caretaker government system was not met.
Components of Juktofront, Dr Kamal's Gonoforum and some other political parties also boycotted the polls.
Currently, the ruling Awami League leads a 14-party alliance while the main opposition in parliament Jatiya Party leads a combine of at least 58 parties.