Awami League, BNP deny having any official foreign branches

The foreign wings of Bangladeshi political parties recently entered the limelight when supporters of the Awami League and the BNP clashed in New York during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to the US.

One of the major questions raised following the clash is how these parties have foreign wings when they are forbidden by the country’s electoral law.

The Awami League president attended the 76th United Nations General Assembly for the 18th time this year. She went to New York on September 19.

Leaders of both parties said they do not have any official foreign branches, although they operate “informal committees” in countries that have a large Bangladeshi diaspora.

However, the informal nature of the committees is up for debate as several former leaders of the committees had been nominated by both the Awami League and the BNP in previous elections. 

What does the law say?

According to Chapter VI (A) of the Representation of the People Order (RPO), 1972, a political party cannot qualify for registration with the Election Commission if the party’s constitution includes any provision for the establishment or operation of any office, branch, or committee outside Bangladesh. 

The new law on political party registration in 2020 upheld the provision of the RPO. 

When contacted by Dhaka Tribune on Sunday, Awami League International Affairs Secretary Shammi Ahmed and his BNP counterpart Rumeen Farhana both said that their parties are not operating any foreign branches abroad. However, the parties have “informal committees” in almost every country in Europe, as well as in some other countries that host a large number of Bangladeshis.

Supporters of the parties independently formed the informal committees as they hold the same beliefs as the parties they support, and they abide by the laws of the countries in which they are located, the party leaders added.

Party nominations for leaders on ‘informal committees’

Leaders of these special committees who received nominations from the Awami League in the last general election include Habibur Rahman Habib in Sylhet-3, Tanvir Hasan Chota Monir in Tangail-2 and Rahimullah in Feni-3. 

The trio actively participated in political campaigns in the United Kingdom, Germany and Saudi Arabia, respectively.

The BNP had also given party nominations to leaders of its informal committees abroad when they were in power.

Regarding party nominations for members of the informal committees, Shammi Ahmed said: “They received party nominations because of their dedication to the party. No law of Bangladesh prevents giving them a party nomination, as their primary membership is with the Bangladesh Awami League.”

Meanwhile, Rumeen Farhana said: “We cannot stop our supporters if they want to form a group abroad and keep in contact with us.” 

Election Commissioner Md Rafiqul Islam told Dhaka Tribune: “It is very tough for us to monitor foreign branches of political parties. When we get complaints on the issue and speak to political parties, they ask what they can do if someone independently decides to form a committee abroad? The party constitutions do not actually have any provisions on forming foreign branches.” 

He thinks the issue will be solved over time. “We should rethink this clause of the political party registration law in future,” he further said.

The clash in New York

When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited New York to attend the 76th UNGA, supporters of the Awami League had organized a procession on 37 Avenue in the city’s Jackson Heights area to welcome her on September 19. 

At the same time, BNP supporters organized a procession in the same area to protest Sheikh Hasina’s visit.

At one point, supporters of the two parties clashed and several people were injured. Police had to rush to the scene to bring the situation under control.

Regarding the clash, BNP International Affairs Secretary Rumeen Farhana said: “We are not labelling the recent incidents in New York as chaos, but rather as freedom of expression. Some people received the prime minister warmly while others did not, this is normal in a democracy.”

However, her Awami League counterpart Shammi Ahmed said: “The hooligans of the BNP who defamed the prime minister in New York not only defamed the image of Awami League President Sheikh Hasina, but also of the prime minister of Bangladesh for three consecutive terms.

“If they believe in patriotism, they must think twice before defaming their own country abroad.”

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