So far, ten parliamentary elections were held in Bangladesh, of which three—the 1988 election during the Ershad regime, the February 15, 1996 election under the BNP government, and the January 5, 2014 election under the Awami League-led Grand Alliance government—were one-sided. Though the other parliamentary elections were more or less competitive, the most acceptable were the four elections held under the neutral caretaker governments after 1990. These were held on February 27, 1991, June 12, 1996, October 1, 2001 and December 29, 2008.
Who won these four elections? Can we identify a pattern in these wins that could give us indications of the electoral strengths of different parties?
Our analysis shows that in the elections between February 1991 and December 2008—the four elections that were most acceptable to the general public as well as to the political parties—Bangladesh Awami League consecutively won in 27 seats. Incidentally, Awami League also won all of these seats in 2014. These seats were: Dinajpur-5, Sirajganj-1, Narail-2, Bagerhat-1, Bagerhat-3, Khulna-1, Patuakhali-3, Patuakhali-4, Tangail-1, Jamalpur-3, Mymensingh-10, Kishoreganj-5, Gazipur-1, Faridpur-1, Gopalganj-1, Gopalganj-2, Gopalganj-3, Madaripur-1, Madaripur-2, Madaripur-3, Shariatpur-2, Shariatpur-3, Sunamganj-3, Moulvibazar-4, Habiganj-2, Habiganj-4 and Bandarban. It should be noted that about a third of these seats were from greater Faridpur, and more than half (15) were from greater Faridpur and South Bengal districts.
On the other hand, in these four elections, BNP consecutively won 18 seats. These seats were: Joypurhat-1, Joypurhat-2, Bogura-3, Bogura-4, Bogura-6, Bogura-7, Khulna-2, Barishal-5, Cumilla-2, Chandpur-4, Feni-1, Feni-3, Noakhali-1, Noakhali-2, Noakhali-3, Lakshmipur-1, Lakshmipur-2 and Lakshmipur-3.
It may be recalled that BNP suffered a major electoral debacle in 2008. It won only 30 seats, a historic low for the party. In this election, BNP failed to win any of the 94 seats of Dhaka or 19 seats of Sylhet divisions. It should also be noted that most of BNP's wins came from greater Bogura, greater Cumilla and greater Noakhali districts.
In the same period, Jatiya Party won seven seats in four consecutive elections. These seats were: Lalmonirhat-2, Rangpur-1, Rangpur-2, Rangpur-3, Kurigram-1, Kurigram-2 and Gaibandha-3. It should be noted that all of Jatiya Party's consecutive wins were from the greater Rangpur district.
In order to determine the relative strengths of different political parties, we need to further analyse the historical election results. Our analysis shows that in addition to four consecutive wins, in 27 seats, Awami League also had three consecutive wins in three seats during the 1991-2001 period. These seats were: Narail-1, Faridpur-5* and Chattogram-4. Incidentally, the Faridpur-5 seat is no longer in existence after the constituency delimitation initiative prior to the 2008 election.
During the same period (from 1991 to 2001), BNP won consecutively three times in 54 seats. The seats were: Panchagarh-1, Bogura-1, Bogura-5, Chapainawabganj-1, Chapainawabganj-2, Naogaon-3, Naogaon-6, Rajshahi-1, Rajshahi-2, Rajshahi-5, Natore-1, Sirajganj-3, Kushtia-1, Kushtia-2, Kushtia-3, Chuadanga-1, Jhenaidah-2, Jhenaidah-3, Jhenaidah-4, Barishal-3, Tangail-3, Tangail-6, Mymensingh-5, Kishoreganj-6, Manikganj-1, Manikganj-3, Munshiganj-1, Munshiganj-2, Munshiganj-3, Munshiganj-4*, Dhaka-1, Dhaka-2, Dhaka-3, Dhaka-7, Dhaka-12, Dhaka-13, Narsingdi-1, Narsingdi-2, Narsingdi-3, Narayanganj-3, Faridpur-3, Brahmanbaria-3, Cumilla-1, Cumilla-4, Cumilla-8, Chandpur-3, Chandpur-6*, Noakhali-4, Chattogram-1, Chattogram-5, Chattogram-8, Chattogram-10, Chattogram-11 and Chattogram-13.
Incidentally, Munshiganj-4 and Chandpur-6 seats are no longer in existence after the constituency delimitation prior to the 2008 election.
During this period, Jatiya Party won consecutively three times in six additional seats. The seats were: Rangpur-4, Rangpur-5, Rangpur-6, Kurigram-4, Gaibandha-5, Pirojpur-2. It should be noted that even in the cases of three consecutive wins, Jatiya Party's strength continued to be primarily in the greater Rangpur district.
Incidentally, Jamaat-e-Islami won only one seat—Satkhira-2—consecutively three times between 1991 and 2001. However, Jamaat won 18 seats in 1991, three in 1996, 17 in 2001, and only two in 2008. It may be noted that in the 2001 and 2008 elections, Jamaat was part of the four-party alliance with BNP.
It's clear from the information above that Awami League was dominant in 30 seats (27+3). The support of Jatiya Party and other Grand Alliance members obviously contributed to Awami League's dominant position in 2008, which continued to be largely concentrated in greater Faridpur and South Bengal districts.
On the contrary, BNP appeared to be dominant in 72 seats (18+54). It must be noted that in 2001 and 2008, BNP's alliance with Jamaat contributed to the former's dominance, which was relatively more spread out to more districts.
It is almost certain that after the formation of the Jatiya Oikyafront under the leadership of Dr Kamal Hossain, General Ershad's Jatiya Party will again be part of the Grand Alliance with Awami League. Awami League and Jatiya Party together won 34 seats (27+7) consecutively four times in the generally accepted elections since 1991. These two parties won three times in a row in nine (3+6) additional seats since 1991. Thus, with the alliance between Awami League and Jatiya Party, they are likely to be in a dominant position in 43 seats (34+9).
It is also clear that despite BNP's joining the Jatiya Oikyafront, it will not leave the 20-party alliance. As a result, BNP's strength will increase by only one additional seat. However, BNP will benefit in other constituencies from Jamaat's vote bank.
The analysis makes clear that during 2001 and 2008, Awami League won more seats consecutively than BNP. With their alliance with Jatiya Party, their combined consecutive four-time wins were almost double that of BNP—34 for Awami League vs 18 for BNP. However, with the addition of three-time consecutive winning seats added, BNP and Jamaat combined look dominant in more seats (73=72+1) than Awami League and Jatiya Party combined (43=30+13).
However, past records may not be repeated in the coming election as many unprecedented changes have taken place in Bangladesh's politics in the last ten years, including the politicisation of many vital institutions. Despite widespread popular support, BNP is also suffering from a serious leadership crisis and, because of the large number of cases and arrests involving its leaders and activists, it is now in a much weaker position. Thus, it remains to be seen whether BNP's popular support can be translated into electoral successes in the future.