Embattled Bangladesh opposition forges new alliance

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party has formed an alliance with centrist parties after its former leade Khaleda Zia was jailed earlier this year. (AFP pic)

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition party has forged an alliance with centrist parties, with an 82-year-old former foreign minister emerging as the main leader ahead of upcoming elections.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is hoping the alliance will help it boost support and move on after a series of setbacks — including its leader Khaleda Zia being jailed for graft in February and its exiled acting leader, her son, being sentenced last week.

The Jatiya Oikya Front (“United National Front”) was formally announced in the Bangladesh capital Saturday after months of negotiations among opposition parties.

Kamal Hossain, a former foreign minister and an eminent lawyer who drafted the secular constitution just after independence in 1971, has emerged as the main leader.

“There is no alternative to a free and fair election,” Hossain told a press briefing late Saturday.

The new alliance issued a seven-point list of demands including the dissolution of parliament and the holding of free and fair polls organised by an interim government.

“The launch of the Jatiya Oikya Front will go down in history as a turning point,” senior BNP leader and former law minister Moudud Ahmed told reporters.

Analysts said the alliance with secular parties would boost BNP ahead of the general election, for which the date has not yet been set, but is likely to be held in December or January.

“The alliance has given BNP a wider umbrella with moderate parties,” Ataur Rahman, a former professor of political science at Rutgers University, told AFP.

“It will help overcome some of the setbacks it suffered recently following the court verdicts against its leaders and crackdown of its activists. The alliance may enjoy wider supports from the civil society, professionals and journalists,” he said.

He said the Hossain-led alliance could emulate Malaysia’s example and rally behind an experienced political figure to pose a formidable challenge to Hasina and her Awami League.

“But everything will depend on how they mobilise support from the grassroots and how they sustain their unity in the next couple of months,” he said.

The exiled acting head of the BNP, Tarique Rahman, the eldest son of Zia, was last week sentenced to life in prison over a 2004 grenade attack on current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Hasina’s party has been in power since January 2009 after a landslide victory over Zia’s BNP-led Islamist alliance.

Hasina stormed back to power in 2014 after she won a controversial election boycotted by BNP and other opposition parties over fear the polls would be rigged.

Bikalpadhara, an opposition party, opted out of the alliance, saying it wants BNP to sever all ties with the country’s largest Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.