Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad on Wednesday threatened to commit suicide after he remained untraceable for 26 hours before he resurfaced on Wednesday afternoon.
“If anyone tries to outwit me – I have four pistols and all are loaded – I will commit suicide,” he told reporters at his Baridhara residence last night after a day full of dramatic events.
“This is a commitment to my countrymen; this is my last decision and I will stick to it till my last breath,” said the former military dictator, who has had records of swinging between decisions and indecisions.
In the afternoon he told media that he had asked his party members to resign from the polls-time cabinet as it was impossible to hold peaceful elections amid the political turmoil.
In a 13-minute press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Ershad announced that he had decided to quit polls – a day after 255 JP men submitted nomination papers for the 10th parliamentary elections.
In the 1980s, Ershad was the Chief Marshal Law Administrator (CMLA). At that time, it was often said that CMLA meant “cancel my last announcement” because of his habit of changing decisions in matters of minutes.
He went off the grid at around 5:15pm Tuesday, soon after his press conference finished, until 3:18pm on Wednesday, when he appeared in white microbus at the back gate of his Baridhara residence.
By 2:30pm, a crowd of JP leaders and supporters had already gathered in front of Ershad’s house. He reportedly directed them through his Press Secretary Sunil Suvra Roy in the morning to gather there around 3pm.
But none of the leaders and supporters were allowed to enter the house, triggering a protest. “Every house will be on fire, if something happens to Ershad,” the crowd chanted.
A little later, former military ruler Ershad sat in a brief meeting with the members of the JP presidium council.
Emerging from the meeting, JP Secretary General and a minister of the polls-time cabinet Ruhul Amin Howlader told media that the party leaders would withdraw their nomination papers on Thursday.
Minutes later, visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh came to meet Ershad at his residence.
He held a 38-minute meeting with Sujatha ending at 4:50pm at his residence. Finally, around 5pm, Ershad started briefing media.
“I asked party members to resign from the polls-time cabinet, as it is impossible to hold elections in a peaceful manner during such a time,” Ershad said. “I have decided not to join the polls without the participation of all the parties.”
Regarding the meeting with the Indian diplomat, Ershad said: “During the meeting, Sujatha said there might be a resurgence of Jamaat if Jatiya Party rejects the polls. In reply, I said if that happens, the government will be responsible.”
Ershad said he told Sujatha: “The voters will not be able to go to the polling centres. Only 2% votes will be cast if elections take place.”
The Indian foreign secretary, however, declined talking to the waiting reporters. The only thing she said was that it was a “good meeting.”
In reply to a question about when the JP ministers would pull out of the
polls-time cabinet, Ershad on Wednesday said: “Leave the timetable to me,” adding that he had instructed his party candidates to withdraw nomination papers.
A JP minister of the interim cabinet Anisul Islam Mahmud told the Dhaka Tribune that he and his fellow party men would abide by the chairman’s instructions to withdraw nomination.
Anisul Islam Mahmud and prime minister’s adviser Zia Uddin Ahmed Bablu on Wednesday told the premier in an informal meeting at Ganabhaban that they would join the polls and try to convince Ershad to come back.
GM Quader, Ershad’s younger brother and minister of the interim cabinet, told the Dhaka Tribune over phone last evening that nomination papers could not be withdrawn all of a sudden. “There is a procedure to follow.”
Meanwhile, Election Commission officials have said that there was no scope of withdrawing nomination papers until the commission finished scrutinising them.
Farhad Hossain, senior assistant secretary of EC secretariat, told the Dhaka Tribune that if any of the JP candidates decided not to withdraw nomination paper, he would be able to go to the polls with JP’s traditional symbol.
Only if the party chief sent a letter to the commission asking for not allocating the party symbol to that candidate, the commission would give other symbols options to him, Farhad said.
A large number of law enforcers, including members of police and Rab cordoned off Ershad’s house after the Indian foreign secretary left. Their heavy presence triggered a rumour that Ershad might be arrested.
Kismat Hayat, chief of Rab 1 and in-charge of security of the diplomatic zone, went to meet Ershad around 5:45 pm. They talked for about 10 minutes.
“We are here to ensure the security of the diplomatic zone and Mr Ershad,” Kismat told reporters after coming out.
When asked whether there was any chance of arresting Ersahd, he said: “We do not have any instruction
Around 11:10pm Ershad suddenly came down to the waiting room of his Baridhara house to talk to his party leaders and activists.
As waiting reporters approached him he declined to say anything. At the insistence of reporters he began to speak out: “If anyone tries to outwit me – I have four pistols and all are loaded – I will commit suicide.”
“This is a commitment to my countrymen; this is my last decision and I will stick to it till my last breath,” he added.
On Tuesday, the chameleon man of Bangladesh politics changed his decision regarding the election and declared to quit from the elections.
Replying to a question, he said: “Many fear that I might be arrested but I am confident that Rab do not have the guts to touch me.”
He said if Rab try to touch him then the whole country would be put on fire.
He said his decision to quit election was a timely one. He also claimed that his party is an independent party with its own principle. People are behind him and all have rejected the government.