Bangladesh: The ‘Opposition Party’ Dilemma

The response to this question remains unclear even after the election, as independents outnumbered the two-time main opposition, Jatiya Party (JP), in terms of MPs."

Even after the election, it is uncertain who will be the main opposition party in the next parliament. The victory of the Awami League was certain even before the polls due to BNP boycotting the election. The main question was who the opposition would going to be. The response to this question remains unclear even after the election, as independents outnumbered the two-time main opposition, Jatiya Party (JP), in terms of MPs.”

According to the Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Leader (Remuneration and Benefits) Act, ‘Leader of the Opposition in the House means as per discretion of Speaker, a parliament member who is the leader of a party or association of highest number in the House opposes to the government party.’

While the term “party” in the Constitution refers to a political party, in the Rules of Procedure it signifies to a parliamentary party. Majority refers to a parliamentary group consisting of a few MPs. According to ‘Parliamentary Rules and Procedures’, there is no mention of the minimum number of MPs that a parliamentary party or association should comprise. The definition of political party in the Constitution is not helpful in distinguishing between parliamentary parties and confederations. The speaker will decide which is the party or association with the maximum number of members opposing the government party.

JP Chairman GM Quader was vocal in criticizing the government before the elections. JP took part in the election with the assurance of fulfilling the conditions of making him the leader of the opposition and the main opposition party with a respectable number of seats. A friendly country was involved. Because of this, the opposition leader Roshan Ershad fell out of the election. Now, it is not clear whether JP will be able to become an opposition party as it got far fewer seats than the independents. Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader said on the question of who will be the opposition party in the parliament, “The leader of the parliament i.e. the one who will be the new prime minister, will decide on this.”

The main opposition party JP had 23 directly elected MPs in the last parliament. In January 07 polls, JP won only 11 seats. According to the results of 298 constituencies, independent candidates have won 62 constituencies. Workers Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal(JSD) and Kalyan Party got one seat each. Awami League won the remaining 222 seats. This time, the highest number of independent candidates has been elected as MPs in the history of Bangladesh. The previous record was 32 in 1986.

JP General Secretary Mujibul Haque Chunnu claims that they will sit in the opposition party despite getting insignificant seats compared to independent MPs. He told, ‘There is no question of going to the government party. I will be in the opposition party.’ On the question whether it is possible to become the main opposition party with only 11 seats, Chunnu said, ‘I will call a meeting of the parliamentary party and decide whether to make this demand.’

In order to ensure victory, JP wanted not only the boat but also the independent candidates who were not nominated by Awami League to be removed from the constituency left by them. Awami League did not agree to contest the election without BNP. So, before the election, it was assumed that the JP would get less seats than the independents. A leader of the party mentioned that JP has learned the lesson of criticizing the government even with benefits and creating confusion about participation in the polls. Awami League is angry with GM Quader, it seems that JP will not be made main opposition in the next Parliament.

In the election of December 30, 2018, JP became the opposition party by getting four times as many seats as BNP. It became the main opposition party for the first time by winning 34 seats in the 10th parliamentary elections without BNP. BNP got 30 seats in the 9th parliamentary election and sat in the seat of the opposition party. Awami League, the opposition party of the eighth parliament, got 62 seats. Awami League in the fifth parliament and BNP was in the opposition in Seventh Parliament. There was no opposition in the sixth Parliament which lasted only four working days.

All major parties including BNP, Awami League, Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted the fourth parliamentary election in 1988. The combined opposition party led by JSD(Rab) won 19 seats in that election. Independent candidates won 25 seats. But the Speaker rated the Combined Opposition as the largest coalition opposing the government. JSD (Siraj), Freedom Party, and 9 independent MPs have jointly appealed for A S M Abdur Rab to be nominated as the leader with the majority number for the opposition. That’s way, the speaker declared A S M Rab, as the leader of the opposition. Awami League won 293 seats in 1973 elections. Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal and Jatiya League got 1 seat each. Independent MPs won 5 seats. The Speaker allocated a room in Parliament for these 7 MPs but did not recognize their parliamentary party or association. Independent 7 MPs requested Speaker Jatiya League’s Ataur Rahman Khan to be recognized as opposition leaders.

In a debate in Parliament on April 12, 1973, the then Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said, ‘No group leader consisting of five to seven members can be recognized as the leader of the opposition party. If a party is formed with less than 25 members and the party has at least 10 members, that party may be called a parliamentary association or a parliamentary group, but not a parliamentary party.’ So there was no recognized opposition party in the first parliament.

This debate is the only direction for the election of the opposition party and the leader of the opposition party. As there are less than 25 members, Jatiya Party should not be considered as a parliamentary party in the next parliament. Parliamentary Association may be called. 10 of the 16 independent MPs who won the second parliamentary election later joined the BNP. Most of the 32 independent MPs of the third parliament joined the ruling JP. This trend continued in the fifth, seventh and eighth parliaments. But after the amendment of the Representation of the People Order (RPO) in 2008, there is no precedent for individual MPs to join the parliamentary group of political parties.

MP Kabirul Haque Mukti of Narail-1 Constituency and Anwarul Azim MP of Noakhali-6 were counted as Independent MPs for the entire term in the Ninth Parliament. Although they were in positions of Awami League and BNP, they were not part of the parliamentary parties of both parties. The 16 independent MPs who won the January 5, 2014 elections formed the association under the leadership of Haji Mohammad Selim. Although they were in Awami League positions, they could not join the party’s parliamentary party. They also got three reserved seats for women, divided as a separate parliamentary group. Faridpur-4 Constituency MP Mujibur Rahman Chowdhury Nixon in the 11th Parliament. Considered as independent. He is not part of the party’s parliamentary party even though he is in the position of Awami League.

An individual MP can join any political party, but whether they can join parliamentary parties, it needs clarification. According to the precedent of the 10th Parliament, individual MPs can form federations if they want. If the demand is made to the Speaker, they can become the main opposition party. Independent MPs can be the leader and deputy leader of the opposition party. 

To boost voter turnout, disenfranchised leaders of the boats were encouraged to run as independent candidates. JP and 14-party alliance candidates won 11and 4 out of 26 and 6 seats respectively left to them by Awami League. It would be preferable to form the opposition in parliament with independent candidates over having a ‘domesticated pseudo-opposition’ like Jatiya Party.

M A Hossain
M A Hossain
M A Hossain, political and defence analyst based in Bangladesh.