With their boycott achieving nothing, the BNP is forced to play by AL’s rules, if only to stay in the game.

It may have come as a shock to most observers, but the BNP's decision to go back on their boycott of the 11th Jatiya Sangshad, itself stemming from a rejection of the election that produced it, does make some sense when viewed against the growing irrelevance into which the party was drifting. The about-face saw 4 of the 6 BNP MPs-elect sworn in on the last day for doing so before their seats were to fall vacant, after Zahidur Rahman Zahid had seemingly broken ranks with his party leaders in doing the same four days earlier.

As Dhaka Courier went to press this week, Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir, who led the party's polls campaign, remained the lone holdout, although his entry into parliament must surely be only a matter of time now. The BNP secretary general himself confirmed that the other four had gone ahead on party acting chairman Tarique Rahman's instruction (Zahidur would seem to have pre-empted them), as part of their movement for having Begum Khaleda Zia freed from jail and democracy restored.

It certainly resulted in the demand for Begum Zia's release being raised in the highest forum it has been till now, as Harun-ur Rashid Harun (Chapainawabganj-3), in his maiden speech in the House just hours after being administered the oath, implored the prime minister to at least "ensure that his leader's bail petition is not opposed in court". He also said she was convicted in what amounted to a 'dictated verdict' of the lower court.

Once the drama had played out, it fell to Mirza Fakhrul to disclose what all had transpired behind the scenes that led to this major shift in the party's position, which he did at a press conference at the BNP chairperson's Gulshan office.

"Amid a serious crisis in national politics and a complicated situation, our party has taken the decision to join parliament as part of our movement for our leader Khaleda Zia's release, her proper treatment and restoration of democracy," he said.

Fakhrul further said, "Our standing committee meeting on Sunday entrusted our acting chairman with the responsibility for taking decision in this regard. Our four MPs-elect were sworn in based on the decision he (Tarique) took as per our party charter."

Asked why he did not take oath, Fakhrul said, "Wait and you'll get the answer."

Replying to another question on whether he sought time from the Speaker for taking oath, he said everything can be known in time. Despite his coyness, reliable sources within BNP and the parliament secretariat intimated he has indeed completed the necessary formality that allows him to be sworn in beyond the deadline that expired on April 29.

The BNP leader said the party thinks it is logical to carry out a movement on the street and in parliament simultaneously using the limited scope for raising voice in the House, to realise their demand for the restoration of people's voting rights, democracy and the release of Khaleda Zia.

In a sequel to their decision, Fakhrul hoped that they will be able to build the country based on national consensus realising their demands for holding a credible national election immediately, restoring democracy and freeing Khaleda Zia and other political prisoners.

The BNP leader also renewed their party's demand for reelection under a non-party government to form parliament with people's vote in a bid to overcome the current political crisis.

He said they will wage a strong and effective movement to force the government to arrange a fresh election and release Khaleda and other BNP leaders and activists withdrawing all the cases filed against them. As a liberal democratic party, Fakhrul said, BNP believes that election is the only way to bring a change in power. "But the ruling party has politicised the election system in such a way that all the electoral institutions have now turned into a weapon for them to prolong power."

He said the government wants to show the global community that parliament, formed without people's vote, is functional as part of its move to get acceptability. "It (parliament) is now the only thing left for opposition parties to exercise their minimum democratic rights."

Fakhrul said they turned down the results of the December-30 polls and urged their MPs-elect not to take oath in line with angered people who could not exercise their voting rights as the government with the help of the administration and the Election Commission manipulated the election the night before the voting day.

Asked whether they will withdraw the expulsion order against Zahidur Rahman Zahid who took oath as MP on April 25, he said they will decide it later. Replying to another question, the BNP leader said they changed their decision on taking oath under the current circumstances, but not under any pressure by the government. Responding to another question, he said they did not make any compromise with the government over taking oath by their MPs-elect.

Asked whether they legitimised parliament by taking oath, he replied in the negative. "We're not legitimising the current parliament. We're going there to use the democratic space."

Earlier, two BNP MPs also claimed that they have taken oath at the last moment at the behest of party acting chairman Tarique Rahman. Talking to reporters after taking oath, Harun-ur-Rashid Harun and Advocate Abdus Sattar also said they came to parliament after consultation with Tarique.

Abdus Sattar, also a former state minister, said they talked to Tarique through videoconferencing, and he instructed them to take oath. Harun, also a party joint general secretary, said, "We've come to parliament and taken oath at Tarique Rahman's order."

Earlier, BNP's four MPs-elect -- Advocate Abdus Sattar (Brahmanbaria-2), Harun-ur Rashid Harun (Chapainawabganj-3), Aminul Islam (Chapainawabganj-2) and Mosharraf Hossain (Bogura-4) -- took oath as members of the 11th Parliament, following in the footsteps of Zahidur Rahman Zahid (Thakurgaon-3).

BNP along with Gonoforum and some other parties joined the election in alliance under the banner of Jatiya Oikyafront. BNP bagged six seats while Gonoforum two in the election. The alliance turned down the election results bringing allegations of 'massive vote robbery' and decided not to join parliament. However, Gonoforum's two MPs-elect Sultan Mohammad Mansur (Moulvibazar-2) and Mokabbir Khan (Sylhet-2) were sworn in on March 7 and April 2 respectively.

Additional reporting by A.R. Jahangir, UNB.

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