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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.