As the 11th parliamentary election draws near, the Awami League is making an effort to develop stronger ties with Islamist parties, with plans to form a polls-time alliance and unite like-minded Islamic clerics under the same umbrella
In line with maintaining good ties with Hefazat-e-Islam and other Islamist parties, Awami League has taken a decision to form an Islamic Forum, a party wing comprised of Islamist parties such as Hefazat, Islami Oikya Front Bangladesh, and people with Islamist sentiments.
On May 22, 2017, following a secretary level meeting of the Awami League, its General Secretary Obaidul Quader told journalists that the ruling party will form an Islamic Forum, which would be similar to existing forums for lawyers and doctors.
Awami League Religious Affairs Secretary Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah has been given the responsibility to form that forum.
Speaking with the Dhaka Tribune, Abdullah said: “We will form an Islamic forum with Islamist parties and clerics who believe in the spirit of the Liberation War and democracy.
“Any party and person can join us if they believe in the spirit of 1971. I will seek party President Sheikh Hasina’s counsel on the matter after forming the religious affairs sub-committee.”
Awami League presidium member Lt Col (retd) Muhammad Faruk Khan echoed the same opinion, saying that the party has no problem maintaining good ties with Islamist parties who believe in the spirit of 1971 and democracy.
He further said: “We did not lose our secular identity [despite our good ties with Islamist parties]. Rather, we encouraged them to follow the spirit of the Liberation War and a secular Bangladesh.”
Meanwhile, two organising secretaries of Awami League, preferring to be anonymous, pointed out that several Islamist parties and clerics have vote banks, but they neither have registration nor the means to participate in the next general polls.
The Awami League is planning to utilize the abovementioned vote banks, by bringing those parties and clerics under the soon to be formed Islamic forum.
Good ties with Hefazat
The Awami League plans to award Hefazat several seats in the upcoming election under the party banner, but it will not form a direct alliance with the Islamist party.
Islami Oikya Jote, Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, Khelafat Andolan, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Islami Oikya Andolan, Jamiatul Ulama Islam, and several other Islamist parties are politically active under the banner of Hefazat.
This means that Awami League has already developed good political standing with these parties through Hefazat.
A number of sources from both the Chittagong and Dhaka units told the Dhaka Tribune that the top brass of Hefazat has been in dialogue with the ruling party since the 2013 Motijheel mayhem.
The insiders further commented: “Before 2013, their movement was coordinated by the Lalbagh Madrasa leaders, but in the last three years, Baridhara Madrasa, led by its Vice-President Nur Hossain Kashemi is leading the party.
“The ruling party also maintains control of Hefazat through Maulana Farid Uddin Masud, chairman of Bangladesh Jamiyatul Ulama, who heads the country’s largest Eid congregation in Kishoreganj, and is a key figure in the Hefazat’s Dhaka city unit.”
Sources from the Hefazat claimed that the party will demand at least 50 seats from Awami League in the next general polls.
What about Islami Oikya Front?
The Awami League is planning to bring Islami Oikya Front Bangladesh into the 14-party alliance.
A number of 14-party alliance leaders told the correspondent that some members of the alliance, especially the left-wing parties are not very eager to include Islami Oikya Front into the alliance.
However, as the Awami League is the decision maker, these parties have decided to keep silent on the issue.
According to sources from the Awami League, ruling party General Secretary Obaidul Quader and Awami League Presidium member Mohammad Nasim, who is serving as the 14-party alliance spokesperson, have already held several meetings with Islami Oikya Front leaders.
In those meetings, leaders from the Islamist party expressed interest about joining the alliance.
Both the Islami Oikya Front and Awami League are ready to march jointly, but sources could not confirm when the formal announcement of their alliance would come.
In 2014, Islamist Oikya Front had taken to the streets against BNP’s atrocities following the January 5 polls.
Lure of the ruling alliance
Zaker Party, Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan, Islami Front Bangladesh, and Bangladesh Islami Oikya Jote are also trying to be a part of the ruling alliance.
Spokesperson for the 14-party alliance Mohammad Nasim told the Dhaka Tribune that several other religion-based parties have also approached them.
“We held a meeting with the leaders of Islami Front Bangladesh, but no decision was reached,” Nasim said.
In the 8th national election, the ruling party gave a seat to Islami Front leader Sayed Mohammad Bahadur Shah Mujaddedi, but he lost the polls. Nasim however expressed optimism that the Islamist party will win at least two seats in the next general polls.
Meanwhile, 14-party alliance member Bangladesh Tariqat Federation has started campaigning and also made a list of 120 eligible candidates.
The party’s Joint Secretary Syed Tayabul Bashar Maizbhandari added that they would demand 30 seats from the ruling party to contest in the next election. Tariqat is the only Islamist party to have MPs in the current parliament.
A new Islamist alliance?
Leaders of several Islamist parties have claimed that votes from people with religious sentiment will help them secure at least 15 seats in the next parliamentary polls.
Khelafat Secretary General Ahmad Abdul Quadir also commented that Islamist parties were preparing to join the next election as part of an alliance.
Meanwhile, several Qawmi madrasa-based parties are trying form a coalition. A leader of Chattogram-based hardliner group Hefazat-e Islam said they were backing the new alliance.
Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat had not clearly announced that it will not join the ruling coalition, but it is also unclear whether it plans to go alone or be part of a different alliance for the polls.
Islami Andolan’s Secretary General Maulana Yunus Ahmad stated: “We are prepared to contest the polls alone. But we will try to form a coalition with like-minded parties or join a big alliance.”
Maulana Yunus however declined to divulge any details.
The party has already announced candidates for the upcoming Khulna City Corporation election and for four parliamentary seats in Bagerhat.
Meanwhile, Nurul Islam Khan, chairman of Ganatantrik Islamist Andolan, an unregistered party, stated that he is trying to form a separate coalition named “Islamist Democratic Alliance” with 15 like-minded parties.
“We demanded 30 seats from the Awami League. We will join the 14-party alliance if our demand is accepted. Otherwise, we will fight the election with our own alliance,” he added.
A senior leader of the abovementioned party, preferring not to be named, told the Dhaka Tribune: “We were instructed by the Awami League to form an alliance of Islamist parties. We will work for the Awami League and may contest the polls under the ruling party’s banner.
“But there is also the possibility that our coalition will contest the polls alone if the BNP boycotts it. But our alliance will work to ensure victory for the Awami League.”