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Bangladesh Modern History

In 1971, Bangladesh became independent with the Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Mujib) as prime minister. Soon there were problems with refugee flows, starvation and corruption. In 1975 Mujib transformed the country into a one-party state, but he was murdered the same year. General Ziaur Rahman (Zia) took power, but he too was murdered. For a chaotic decade, the army commander ruled until he was forced to resign in 1990. Subsequently, two political arch enemies emerged: Zia's widow Khaleda Zia and Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Until February 2018, when Zia was imprisoned, they led their party, which for more than a quarter of a century has fought each other in politics as well as in courts and in the streets.

Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan in December 1971. The Awami League, which had led the independence movement against the Pakistani army in the civil war that year (see Older History), formed government with party leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Mujib) as prime minister. The country was given a constitution which stated that the nation was a secular democracy based on nationalism and socialism.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Bangladesh. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The Awami League won a grand victory in the country's first elections in 1973, but soon protests emerged against corruption and widespread poverty. The country was war-ravaged and there was no readiness to receive the millions of refugees returning home from India after the civil war. Floods aggravated the situation and famine hit the inhabitants.

Contemporary History of BangladeshPolitical murders

The new nation soon fell into political and economic crisis. Mujib announced a state of emergency and in January 1975 he transformed Bangladesh into a one-party state with himself as president. In August of that year, Mujib and most of his family were murdered by a group of officers. Several coups followed, but power soon fell into the hands of General Ziaur Rahman (Zia). In 1977 he was installed as president.

Under General Zia, political parties were again allowed, including Islamist parties that had been banned since independence. The general also changed the constitution so that Islam became a foundation in the state. Zia formed a new party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (GDP), which won the parliamentary elections in 1979.

General Zia was murdered in 1981 in connection with a coup attempt. The following year, Army Chief Muhammad Ershad seized power. He dissolved Parliament and introduced exceptional laws. Ershad eventually founded the Jatiya Party and sought to establish legitimacy through elections. But the opposition was essentially cold-tempered and demanded democratic reforms. Ershad's board was characterized by election boycotts, strikes and student protests. In the end, the chaos was so great that Ershad resigned, in December 1990.

Democratic elections

The main opponents of the February 1991 parliamentary elections were GDP, led by General Zia's widow Khaleda Zia, and the Awami League led by a Mujib daughter who survived the 1975 massacre: Sheikh Hasina Wajed. In the elections, GDP gained a scarce majority in parliament with the support of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami. Khaleda Zia became prime minister. Through a constitutional change, consolidated in a referendum, parliamentarism was reinstated.

In May 1991, a devastating cyclone swept across Bangladesh, killing 140,000 people. The already poor country was hit by a huge economic setback.

The new GNP government, among other things, invested in the sale of state industries to accelerate growth. This led to protests and the country was repeatedly shaken by demonstrations, strikes and political violence.

From 1994, all opposition parties boycotted the parliament. Elections, also boycotted, were held in February 1996, but the chaos became so extensive that the re-elected GDP government resigned and new elections were announced in June. Now the Awami League, which formed government together with the Jatiya Party, prevailed. Sheikh Hasina Wajed took up as prime minister.

Still chaos

The new government continued with the same economic policy as its predecessor. The political situation in the country remained chaotic. GDP acted in opposition just as the Awami League did: through strikes, demonstrations and boycotts. Islamists and right-wing groups made common cause with GDP. Violent clashes between police and various activist groups were commonplace.

When Sheikh Hasina's term expired in 2001, in accordance with the Constitution, she handed over to a transitional government (see Political system). Violence characterized the electoral movement, but the October election itself was conducted in a democratic order. The result was a major victory for GDP, which took almost two-thirds of the mandate. Khaleda Zia returned as prime minister. The Awami League returned to what has become the opposition's signature - protest actions and accusations of cheating. The BNP government continued with corruption, frugal politics and oppression of opposites.

The already extensive political violence was escalating more and more. Several blast attacks that demanded deaths were carried out at political gatherings. Representatives of the judiciary and the media also became targets. Muslim fundamentalists - now with the support of two parties that were part of the GDP-led government - increasingly demanded that the secular judicial system be scrapped and Islamic sharia laws introduced. In 2005, the Islamist group Jamaatul Mujaheddin Bangladesh (JMB) was banned from taking on a series of blasts. Several of the group's leaders were arrested and executed.

Election boycott and violence

In October 2006, Khaleda Zia resigned ahead of the election, to be held three months later. But the Awami League objected to GDP manipulating the appointment of the transitional government's leaders. In December, a report also came out about extensive cheating with the embankments; they were reported to contain over 12 million false names. More violent clashes between supporters of both parties occurred. At year-end, some 50 people had been killed in connection with the unrest. The EU and the UN withdrew their election observers, and the Awami Association announced that it intended to boycott the election.

In January 2007, the transitional government announced a state of emergency and postponed the election indefinitely. It was a coup-like maneuver that took place with the support of the military and was welcomed by most Bangladeshi people because the state of the country was chaotic. Former governor Fakhruddin Ahmed was appointed new head of government.

The new transitional government tried to deal with the violent political tensions that have come to paralyze the country. Reform of the judiciary, electoral machinery and government institutions was initiated. Political activities were banned and a wave of mass arrests followed. In 2007, about 440,000 people are estimated to have been arrested.

New choice

Efforts were also made to break the power of the two leading parties, or at least to outsmart their leader, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. First, the transitional government tried to force the former prime ministers into exile. When it failed, both were arrested and charged with corruption. It didn't work either; through a combination of legal disputes and political considerations, both were released prior to the elections scheduled for December 2008. It was only shortly before the election that the state of emergency was ruled out for almost two years.

The election was a great victory for the Awami Federation, which alone received 230 of the 300 seats that were appointed directly. The Jatiya Party and three other alliance parties to the Awami League secured 33 mandates, as many as GDP and its alliance parties together. Another 45 seats were later occupied according to party lists, but the proportions remained the same (see Political system). Independent election supervisors declared the election freely and fairly. The turnout was a record 80 percent.

2006

December

Strikes and blockades before the election

The election date is set for January 22, 2007. The Awami Federation says it plans to boycott the election and party leader Sheikh Hasina accuses the temporary head of government Fakhruddin Ahmed of favoring Khaleda Zia and Bangladesh's National Party (GDP). Strikes and blockades in protest against the election hit the country.

October

Protests against transitional government

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her GDP- dominated government are leaving for upcoming elections in accordance with the constitution. Violent protests erupt when the opposition, led by the Awami League, questions the transitional government that is being appointed.

 
 

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