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Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)

After Zia consolidated his military dictatorship, he formed his own Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which took control of Parliament and attracted opportunistic politicians from the opposition to a strong, centrist platform. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party received a heavy blow as a result of Ershad's March 1982 coup. From a position of control under Zia, it was thrown into the political wilderness, with many of its leaders prosecuted for corruption.

During the 1982-83 period, the party was divided into two groups, one headed by Abdus Sattar, the deposed president, with Khaleda Zia as senior vice chairman, and the other headed by former Minister of Information Shamsul Huda Chowdhury. The latter group quickly disappeared, and the dominant faction found a popular leader in Khaleda Zia. She became party chairman and was reelected unopposed in 1986.

The leadership of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party fell to Begum Khaleda Zia, the widow of President Zia, and the party became the center of a seven-party alliance distinct from the one led by the Awami League. The two major alliances distrusted each other intensely, but they formed the heart of a larger thirty-two-party front, comprising socialist, communist, and Islamic groups, called the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy.

Throughout the 1980s, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led a seven-party alliance that consistently refused to recognize the Ershad regime. The price it paid for this stance was an inability to participate in the government. In fact, the policies advocated by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party differed little from those of the Jatiyo Party once it was in power, for both groups were descended from the military rule of Zia's time.

Although the Bangladesh Nationalist Party generally ranked behind the Awami League in terms of public support, it had a presence in the countryside through its peasants' wing, the Jatiyobadi Krishak Dal (Nationalist Peasants Party), formed in October 1987. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party also backed a student wing called the Jatiyobadi Chhatro Dal (Nationalist Students Party) and a workers' front called the Jatiyobadi Sramik Dal (Nationalist Workers Party).

On 27 October 2006 Parliament was dissolved with a view to holding general elections on 22 January 2007. On 30 October 2006 the government of Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia (BNP) was replaced by a caretaker government led by President Iajuddin Ahmed (BNP) and tasked with overseeing the elections. The caretaker system had been introduced in 1991 after military-backed president Hossain Mohammad Ershad was toppled by street protests led jointly by BNP leader Zia and Amami League leader Sheikh Hasina. These two women have dominated the country's politics ever since. The Constitution requires the caretaker government to be neutral and non-partisan in order to organize free and fair elections. In 2006 concerns were raised over whether the caretaker government led by President Ahmed would indeed be neutral.

In an unprecedented move, in September 2008 the BNP decided that its Chairperson Khaleda Zia will lead the party for life. The decision came at a meeting of the standing committee, the party’s highest policy-making body.

On 20 September 2008 the head of the military-backed caretaker government Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed announced that elections would be held on 18 December 2008. On 29 December a record 87.13 per cent of the 81 million registered voters turned out at the polls. The European Union (EU) monitored the polls and concluded that the elections had been credible and transparent and reflected "the will of the people of Bangladesh". The final results gave 263 seats to the AL-led alliance of which 230 went to the AL. The BNP took 30 seats and its allies three.

In 2013 the BNP, supported by its ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, sought to change the election law through general strikes and street protests and announced its intention to boycott the upcoming 2014 general election citing unfair conditions.

On 5 January 2014 the Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and its allies, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, took a total of 245 seats of the 300 seats at stake. The elections were boycotted by an 18-party opposition alliance, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Due to the boycott, a total of 153 seats were decided uncontested. The Jatiya Party led by former president Hussain Mohammad Ershad took 34 seats. The 2014 elections were the first to be held after the Constitution was amended in 2011, abolishing the provision to set up a caretaker government to organize national elections. The BNP, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, had argued unsuccessfully for the restoration of the caretaker government provision prior to the elections. In November 2013, Prime Minister Hasina installed an "all-party" interim government comprising only the AL and its allies, under her leadership. BNP leader Zia said such a government would undermine the fairness of the process and announced that the BNP would boycott the elections.

On December 31, 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina secured her third consecutive term with a landslide victory in Bangladesh's national election, raising concerns that the south Asian country of some 160 million may be turning into a "one-party state". Sheikh Hasina's party, the Awami League (AL), and its allies won almost all the 300 parliamentary seats contested in its best ever result. The main opposition alliance, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), on the other hand, managed to secure only seven seats.

The BNP's disappointing result in last year's election caused many Bangladesh watchers to question whether the former ruling party, which won four national and two presidential elections since its formation in 1978 but has not been in power since 2006, will ever regain its position as a major political force in the country.

The party's Chairperson Khaleda Zia is in jail for corruption charges and her son and the party's Acting Chairman Tarique Rahman has been living in exile in London for more than 10 years. In October 2018, a Bangladeshi court also sentenced Tarique to life in prison over a 2004 assassination attempt on Sheikh Hasina, which killed 24 people and injured many others. Many of the party's other leaders and prominent supporters are also either in jail, exile or hiding and the rest is trying to keep a low profile.

In the eyes of the Bangladeshi public, the BNP wants to be in power but offers no explanation as to what exactly it would do - or change - once it forms a government. It is healthy for a country to have the ruling elite change regularly, but when the main alternative fails to bring an attractive proposition to the table, change for the sake of change becomes a less attractive option for the people. The BNP does not appear to follow a particular ideology, and this makes it an even less attractive opposition force. While most Bangladeshi political parties and groups are mostly clientelist, they still have a kernel of ideology.

Bangladesh is a huge country with a 160 million-strong population. It has leftists, conservatives, city dwellers and millions living in rural areas. There are nationalists, socialists, Islamists and minorities. There are people concerned with environmental problems, there are women's rights activists. None of these groups has specific political representation in the country.

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Page last modified: 19-03-2019 09:53:10 ZULU