Politics of Bangladesh
|This article is part of a series on the|
politics and government of
Politics of Bangladesh takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Bangladesh is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament. The Constitution of Bangladesh was written in 1972 and has undergone sixteen amendments.
Political parties and elections
The three major parties in Bangladesh are the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Bangladesh Awami League and Jatiya Party. BNP finds its allies among some Islamist parties like Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh while the Awami League aligns itself traditionally with leftist and secularist parties. Another important player is the Jatiya Party, headed by former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad and another one is Bangladesh Islami Front. The Awami League-BNP rivalry has been bitter and punctuated by protests, violence and murder. Student politics is particularly strong in Bangladesh, a legacy from the liberation movement era. Almost all parties have highly active student wings, and students have been elected to the Parliament.
Three radical Islamist parties, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkatul Jihad were banned in February 2005 on grounds of militancy and terrorism. Following the first series of bans, a series of bomb attacks took place in the country. The evidence of staging these attacks by these extremist groups have been found in the investigation, and hundreds of suspected members have been detained in numerous security operations, including the head of those two parties in 2006. The first recorded case of a suicide bomb attack in Bangladesh took place in November 2005.
|Serial||Political Party||Total Candidates||Seats||Votes||Percentage||Symbol|
|5||Pakistan Muslim League (Convention)||93||0||4,64,185||2.8%|
|6||Pakistan Muslim League (Kou)||50||0||2,74,453||1.6%|
|7||Pakistan Muslim League (Kayum)||65||0||1,75,822||1%|
|8||National Awami Party (Wali)||39||0||3,10,986||1.8%|
|Serial||Political Party||Total Candidates||Seats||Votes||Percentage||Symbol|
|5||Pakistan Muslim League (Convention)||0||1%|
|6||Pakistan Muslim League (Kou)||0||0.05%|
|7||Pakistan Muslim League (Kayum)||0||0.05%|
|8||National Awami Party (Wali)||1||0.9%|
|2||Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal||237||1||12,29,110||6.52%||Torch|
|3||National Awami Party (Mozaffar)||224||0||15,69,299||8.33%||Hut|
|4||National Awami Party (Bhasani)||169||0||10,02,771||3%||Sheaf of Paddy|
|5||Communist Party of Bangladesh||4||0||47,211||0.25%||Key|
|6||Communist Party of Bangladesh (L)||2||0||18,619||0.1%||Bullock Cart|
|7||Bangladesh Jatiyo League||8||1||62,354||0.33%||Plough|
|8||Banglar Communist Party||3||0||11,911||0.06%||Axe|
|1||Bangladesh Nationalist Party||298||207||79,34,236||41.16%||Sheaf of Paddy|
|4||Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal||240||8||9,31,851||4.84%||Torch|
|5||Islamic Democratic League||266||20||19,41,394||10.08%||Lantern (Hurricane)|
|6||National Awami Party (Mo)||89||1||4,32,514||2.25%||Hut|
|7||National Awami Party (Naser)||28||0||25,336||0.14%||Rose|
|8||National Awami Party (Nuru Jahid)||38||0||88,385||0.46%||Lamp|
|9||Communist Party of Bangladesh||11||0||75,455||0.39%||Key|
|10||United Peoples Party||70||0||1,70,955||0.89%||Bullock Cart|
|11||Bangladesh Jatiyo League||14||2||69,319||0.36%||Plough|
|12||Bangladesh Gono Front||46||2||1,15,622||0.60||Bicycle|
|13||Jatioybadi Gonotantrik Dal||29||0||27,259||0.14||Fish|
|14||Shramik Krishak Samajbadi Dal||2||0||4,954||0.02||Umbrella|
|15||Bangladesh Samyabadi Dal||20||1||74,771||0.39|
|16||Bangladesh Gonotantrik Andolon||16||0||7,738||0.04||Chair|
|17||Bangladesh Labour Party||18||1||34,259||0.17||Clock|
|18||Jatioy Janata Party||9||0||10,932||0.06||Mango|
|19||Bangladesh Jatioy Dal(Huda)||6||0||0||Date Tree|
|20||Bangladesh Gonotantrik Dal||5||0||3,564||0.01|
|21||Jatiyo Ekata Party||3||1||44,459||0.23||Inkpot|
|22||Peoples Democratic Party||3||0||5,703||0.02||Horse|
|23||Bangladesh Janat Mukti Party||3||0||3,363||0.01||Spade|
|24||Jatiotabadi Gonotantrik Chashi Dal||2||0||130||0.01||Elephant|
|25||United Republican Party||2||0||389||0.01||Pineaple|
|26||Bangladesh Gono Ajadi League||1||0||1,378||0.01||Aeroplane|
|27||Bangladesh Nejame Islami||1||0||1,575||0.01||Candle|
|28||Bangladesh Tati Samity||1||0||1,8340||0.01||Pitcher|
|29||National Republican Party||1||0||14,429||0.07||Cow|
|2||Bangladesh Awami League||256||76||74,62,157||26.15%||Boat|
|3||Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh||76||10||13,14,057||4.60%||Balance Scale|
|4||Communist Party of Bangladesh||9||5||2,59,728||0.91%|
|5||National Awami Party (Mozaffar)||10||2||3,68,979||1.29%|
|6||National Awami Party||5||3,68,979||1.29%|
|7||Bangladesh Krishok Shromik Awami League||6||3||1,91,107||0.67%|
|8||Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (Rob)||4||7,25,303||2.54%|
|9||Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (Siraj)||14||3||2,48,705||2.54%|
|11||Bangladesh Workers Party||3||1,51,828||0.53%|
|2||Combined Opposition Party||269||19||32,63,340||12.63%|
|3||Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (Siraj)||25||3||3,09,666||1.20%|
|1||Bangladesh Nationalist Party||300||140||1,05,07,549||30.81%||Sheaf of Paddy|
|2||Bangladesh Awami League||264||88||1,02,59,866||30.08%||Boat|
|3||Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami||222||18||41,17,737||12.2%||Balance Scale|
|5||Jaker Party (JDP)||251||0||4,17,737||1.22%||Rose|
Following boycotts by the main opposition party Bangladesh Awami League, BNP won the uncontested elections. However, amidst protests, they were made to cave into Awami League's original demands, dissolve the parliament, and hold elections under a neutral caretaker government after the enactment of the 13th amendment.
|Bangladesh Nationalist Party||300||+160|
|Source: Nohlen et al.|
Bangladesh Awami League won the general elections for the first time since 1973 by forming a coalition government, since they fell 5 seats short of a majority.
|Bangladesh Awami League||15,882,792||37.4||146||New|
|Bangladesh Nationalist Party||14,255,986||33.6||116||-34|
|Islami Oikkya Jote||461,517||1.1||1||New|
|Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Rab)||97,916||0.2||1||New|
|74 other parties||662,451||1.6||0||0|
|Source: Nohlen et al.|
BNP won two-third majority in the parliament and won the elections.
|Bangladesh Nationalist Party (Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Dal)||23,074,714||41.40||193|
|Bangladesh Awami League||22,310,276||40.02||62|
|Jatiya Party (Ershad)
|Jatiya Party (Naziur)||521,472||0.94||4|
|Islami Oikya Jote||312,868||0.56||2|
|Krishak Shramik Janata League||261,344||0.47||2|
|Jatiya Party (Manju)||243,617||0.44||1|
|Non-partisan and others||2,262,045||4.06||6|
|Total (turnout 74.9 %)||55,728,162||100.0||300|
|Source: Bangladesh Election Commission through Adam Carr and Daily Star|
Bangladesh Awami League won two-third majority in the parliament and won the elections.
|Grand Alliance||Bangladesh Awami League||33,887,451||49.0%||230||+168|
|Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal||429,773||0.6%||3||+2|
|Workers Party of Bangladesh||214,440||0.3%||2||+1|
|Liberal Democratic Party||161,372||0.2%||1||±0|
|Four Party Alliance||Bangladesh Nationalist Party||22,963,836||33.2%||30||–163|
|Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP||95,158||0.1%||1||–4|
|Islami Oikya Jote||-||-||-||-|
|Independents and others||3,366,858||4.9%||4||–2|
|Source: Electoral Commission of Bangladesh seat-wise tally Election commission homepage|
As a result of violence and the opposition boycott voter turnout was 22%. Results of 139 seats out of 147 were released, with the Awami League winning 105, the Jatiya Party winning 13, the Workers Party winning four, the JSD winning two and the Tarikat Federation and BNF winning one each. The remaining 8 constituencies election were suspended due to violence and re-election to be held. The newly elected MPs were sworn in on 9 January.
|Jatiya Party (Ershad)||5,167,698||11.31||34||+10|
|Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal||798,644||1.75||5||+2|
|Jatiya Party (Manju)||0.3||2||+2|
|Bangladesh Tarikat Federation||0.3||2||+2|
|Bangladesh Nationalist Front||0.3||1||+1|
|Sources: Parliament of Bangladesh, IFES|
Brief History of Caretaker Government of Bangladesh
A caretaker government was first introduced in 1990 when three political alliances jointly made a demand for it. Following the forced resignation of General Ershad, the three alliances nominated then Chief Justice Shahbuddin Ahmed as the Chief Advisor. A Caretaker government is headed by a Chief Adviser who enjoys the same power as the regular prime minister of the country except defence matters. The Advisors function as Ministers. Since 1996, the Caretaker government has held the elections of 1996, 2001 and 2008. Although the first caretaker government was intended to help the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, this system was institutionalized in 1996 by the Sixth Parliament dominated by Bangladesh Nationalist Party, yielding to boycotting opposition pressure.
In Bangladesh, there was a Caretaker Government (CTG) for the period of 1990-91 with understanding of political parties. Later, there were also CTG formed within constitutional framework in 1996, 2001 and 2006 followed by 13th amendment to the constitution passed in the parliament. Besides, an extra-constitutional military-backed CTG was installed in 2007 which governed Bangladesh without legitimacy that ultimately handed over to elected political party following 29 December 2008 parliamentary election when they were failed to continue as pressured by international world. According to the provision (before abolishment)of CTG in the Bangladesh Constitution, there were 6 options to appoint Chief Advisor (CA). Last option of CA is the President. CTG had to hold election within 90 days and in 120 days power could be handed over to elected political party. Day to day affair or routine duty and holding parliamentary election are mandated responsibility of CTG. The military backed CTG was formed without constitutional provision, CA was appointed violating provision of constitution, performed all responsibilities of regular elected government and lasted for 2 years. Army chief used to attend the advisory council meetings and pressured cabinet to take decision as he wanted. Advisor to the President M Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury (Mukhles Chowdhury) was ousted as he was against army move and President Iajuddin Ahmed had to run presidency at the gun point. Lt. Gen. Moeen upgraded army chief's rank to General and to maintain balance also other two forces chiefs accordingly. Moeen also made his one-year extension without lawful authority in absence of regular elected government. Senior Advisor and Minister of State Mukhles Chowdhury tried utmost, solved political problem and thereby brought rival political parties to the planned parliamentary elections of 22 January 2007. However, by cancelling H M Ershad's nomination Moeen staged a military coup on 11 January 2007. Former state minister for home affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar was used for this purpose.
Initial resistance and the formation of Provisional Government
After a brutal Pakistani army crackdown on the local people of Bangladesh on 25 March 1971. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Chief of Awami League and the leader of the liberation movement declared independence on 26 March 1971, which was broadcast from Chittagong radio station on 27 March, first by the then Awami League Secretary of Chittagong Mr Abdul Hannan and other Awami League leaders and then by Major Ziaur Rahman on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the evening of 27 March. Captain Rafiq BU Commanding Officer of Chittagong East Pakistan Rifles revolted first and subsequently other commanding officers at different places: Major Shafiullah, Major Khaled Musharraf and Major Ziaur Rahman revolted with their forces. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested by the Pakistan Army in early hours of 26 March, immediately after he declared independence and was taken to West Pakistan, where he remained in jail until early January 1972.
Bangladesh's first government formed on 10 April 1971 and took the oath of office in Meherpur, Kushtia on 17 April 1971. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected as the first President of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh, Syed Nazrul Islam was elected as the Vice President, and Tajuddin Ahmed was elected as the first Prime Minister. Other major cabinet members were Mr Kamruzzaman, Mr Monsur Ali and Khodokar Mustaq Ahmed, all senior Awami League leaders. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by virtue of his position as the President of Bangladesh became the Supreme Commander of the Liberation Army, while Colonel M.A.G. Osmani was appointed by the provisional government as the Commander-in- Chief of the liberation army. Subsequently, the provisional government formed its secretariat and designated top bureaucrats as chiefs of the divisions of the Secretariat. The Provisional Government later divided Bangladesh into eleven Sectors for conducting war efficiently and in an organized manner. This Government became the first legal political entity on behalf of the fighting people of Bangladesh and represented the people in the international arena. Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed started intergovernmental dialogue with the Indian Government immediately after the formation of the Provisional Government.
As this government was formed during the war of independence from Pakistan, its significance holds a distinction. Its temporary headquarters were soon set up at 8 Theatre Road in Calcutta, India.
1972-1975: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
In early January 1972 the leader of the Liberation War and Liberation movement Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from Pakistan Jail and was sent to London. On Mujib's arrival in London, he was met by the Prime Minister of UK and other world leaders. Sheikh Mujib returned to Bangladesh on 10 January 1972, by a British Royal Air Force Aircraft. Mujib was placed at the helm of government, according to the election victory under the unified Pakistan government. In 1973 after the first Bangladesh elections, he continued his term in office with immense backing from India, and public popularity, but had great difficulty transforming this popular support into the political strength needed to function as head of government. The new constitution, which came into force in December 1972, created a strong executive prime minister, a largely ceremonial presidency, an independent judiciary, and a unicameral legislature on a modified Westminster model. The 1972 constitution adopted as state policy the Awami League's (AL) four basic principles of nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy.
The first parliamentary elections held under the 1972 constitution were in March 1973, with the Awami League winning a massive majority. No other political party in Bangladesh's early years was able to duplicate or challenge the League's broad-based appeal, membership, or organizational strength. Mujib and his cabinet having no experience in governance nor administration, relied heavily on experienced civil servants and political factions of the Awami League, the new Bangladesh Government focused on relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of the economy and society. Mujib nationalised the entire economy, banking and industrial sector. Economic conditions took a serious downturn. On top of that heavy corruption among his own party members, factions and senior leadership also added to the devastation and famine. The then U.S. Secretary of State termed Bangladesh a Bottomless Basket. In December 1974, Mujib decided that continuing economic deterioration and mounting civil disorder required strong measures. After proclaiming a state of emergency, Mujib used his parliamentary majority to win a constitutional amendment limiting the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, establishing an executive presidency, and instituting a one-party system, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), which all members of Parliament were obliged to join.
Despite promises, no sign of improvement in the economic situation surfaced. Implementation of promised political reforms was almost nil, and criticism of government policies became increasingly centered on Mujib. Serious disorientation in the armed services, disenchantment in society, detoriaration of law and order created a huge mistrust of Mujib and his government including the Awami League itself. The then chief of army staff K M Shafiullah and chief of air staff A.K. Khandker stood stunned and idle during this situation. In August 1975, Mujib, and most of his family, were assassinated by a small group of mid-level army officers. Mujib's daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, happened to be out of the country. A new government, headed by former Mujib associate Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, was formed.
1975 August-1975 November
Mujib's senior cabinet minister Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad formed a new government and immediately initiated a few critical changes in Mujib's policies and rules of business in government. However, within three months the first military coup took place in Bangladesh by senior members of the army, removing Mushtaq and replacing his administration. Armed forces personnel along with internal political and government forces fell into a chaotic dispute, resulting in a vacuum at the highest level of government.
1975-1981: Ziaur Rahman
Following Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad's removal, jail killings of arrested members of Mujib's cabinet, and assassination of Brigadier General Khaled Musharaf by a segment of army personnel, a very short lived revolution resulted in the emergence of arrested deputy Army Chief of Staff Major General Ziaur Rahman ("Zia"), who managed to take the lead and bring the whole nation out of a political quagmire. His first action was to communicate to the people through radio and television and bring order and calm to the nation. He pledged full support to the civilian government headed by President Chief Justice Sayem. Acting at Zia's behest, Sayem dissolved Parliament, and instituted state of emergency under martial law. Fresh elections were to be in 1977 under a multi party democracy with full freedom of the press.
Acting behind the scenes of the Martial Law Administration (MLA), Zia sought to invigorate government policy and administration. Lifting the ban on political parties from Mujib's one party BAKSAL rule, he sought to revitalize the demoralized bureaucracy, to begin new economic development programs, infrastructure buildup, a free press and to emphasize family planning. In November 1976, Zia became Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and assumed the presidency upon Sayem's retirement 5 months later, held national elections in 1978.
As President, Zia announced a 19-point program of economic reform and began dismantling the MLA. Keeping his promise to hold elections, Zia won a 5-year term in the June 1978 elections, with 76% of the vote. In November 1978, his government removed the remaining restrictions on political party activities in time for parliamentary elections in February 1979. These elections, which were contested by more than 30 parties, marked the culmination of Zia's transformation of Bangladesh's Government from the MLA to a democratically elected, constitutional one. The AL and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), founded by Zia, emerged as the two major parties. The constitution was again amended to provide for an executive prime minister appointed by the president, and responsible to a parliamentary majority. Zia invigiorated a strong foreign policy based on sovereignty and economic independence. He initiated many social programs to uplift the poor through honest hard work and education. His greatest legacy on the people of Bangladesh was unity and self-dependence.
In May 1981, Zia was assassinated in Chittagong by dissident elements of the military. There was no coup or uprising attempted, and the major conspirators were never taken into custody or killed. In accordance with the constitution, Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar was sworn in as acting president. He immediately set out to continue Zia's policies and called for fresh elections. Due to President Zia's tremendous popularity Satter won as the BNP's candidate. President Sattar sought to follow the policies of his predecessor and retained essentially the same cabinet.
1982-1990: Hussain Mohammed Ershad
Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hussain Mohammed Ershad assumed power in the second full-fledged but bloodless coup on 24 March 1982. He removed the country's democratically elected president and suspended the constitution and declared martial law. He cited pervasive corruption, ineffectual government, and economic mismanagement for legitimising his action. The following year, Ershad assumed the presidency, retaining his positions as army chief and CMLA, first time in Bangladesh. During most of 1984, Ershad sought the opposition parties' participation in local elections under martial law. The opposition's refusal to participate, however, forced Ershad to abandon these plans. Ershad was capable of managing the Awami League through financial and political support. The Awami League's support gave him the strength and legitimacy to seek public support for his regime in a national referendum on his leadership in March 1985. He won overwhelmingly, although turnout was small. Two months later, Ershad held elections for local council chairmen. Pro-government candidates won a majority of the posts, setting in motion the President's ambitious decentralization program that Ziaur Rahman had initiated. Political life was finally liberalized in early 1986, and additional political rights, including the right to hold large public rallies, were restored. Additional support from Jamaati Islami at the same time gave Ershad's political vehicle for the transition from martial law some form of legitimacy and the political order of Ershad and his Jatiya Party was established.
Despite a boycott by the BNP, led Begum Khaleda Zia, parliamentary elections were held on schedule in May 1986. The Jatiya Party won a modest majority of the 300 elected seats in the national assembly. The participation of the Awami League led by party chairman Sheikh Hasina Wazed—lent the elections some credibility, despite widespread charges of voting irregularities and ballot box theft.
Ershad resigned as Army Chief of Staff and retired from military service in preparation for the presidential elections, scheduled for October 1986. Protesting that martial law was still in effect, both the BNP refused to put up opposing candidates. The Awami League participated by breakinh their open public promise. Ershad easily outdistanced the remaining candidates, taking 84% of the vote. Although Ershad's government claimed a turnout of more than 50%, opposition leaders of BNP, and much of the foreign press, estimated a far lower percentage and alleged voting irregularities.
Ershad continued his stated commitment to lift martial law. In November 1986, his government mustered the necessary two-thirds majority in the national assembly to amend the constitution and confirm the previous actions of the martial law regime. The President then lifted martial law, and the opposition party Awami League of Hasina Wazed took their elected seats in the national assembly.
In July 1987, however, after the government hastily pushed through a controversial legislative bill to include military representation on local administrative councils. Passage of the bill helped spark an opposition movement by Bangladesh Nationalist Party that quickly gathered momentum. The Awami League and Jamaat Islami. understanding their political gamble, gradually united with Bangladesh Nationalist Party for the first time. The government began to arrest scores of opposition activists under the country's Special Powers Act of 1974. Despite these arrests, opposition parties continued to organize protest marches and nationwide strikes. After declaring a state of emergency, Ershad dissolved Parliament and scheduled fresh elections for March 1988.
All major opposition parties refused government overtures to participate in these polls, maintaining that the government was illegal and incapable of holding free and fair elections. Despite the opposition boycott, the government proceeded. The ruling Jatiya Party won 251 of the 300 seats. The Parliament, while still regarded by the opposition as an illegitimate body, held its sessions as scheduled, and passed numerous bills, including, in June 1988, a constitutional amendment making Islam Bangladesh's state religion.
By 1989, the domestic political situation in the country seemed to have quieted. The local council elections were generally considered by international observers to have been less violent and more free and fair than previous elections. However, opposition to Ershad's rule began to regain momentum, escalating by the end of 1990 in frequent general strikes, increased campus protests, public rallies, and a general disintegration of law and order.
On 6 December 1990, after 2 months of widespread civil unrest, Ershad offered his resignation. On 27 February 1991, an interim government oversaw what most observers believed to be the nation's second most free and fair elections to date.
1991-1996: Khaleda Zia
The center-right BNP won a plurality of seats and formed a coalition government with the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, with Khaleda Zia, widow of Ziaur Rahman, obtaining the post of Prime Minister. Only four parties had more than 10 members elected to the 1991 Parliament: The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia; the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina; the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), led by Golam Azam; and the Jatiya Party (JP), led by acting chairman Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury while its founder, former President Ershad, served out a prison sentence on corruption charges. The electorate approved still more changes to the constitution, formally re-creating a parliamentary system and returning governing power to the office of the prime minister, as in Bangladesh's original 1972 constitution. In October 1991, members of Parliament elected a new head of state, President Abdur Rahman Biswas.
In March 1994, controversy over a parliamentary by-election, which the opposition claimed the government had rigged, led to an indefinite boycott of Parliament by the entire opposition. The opposition also began a program of repeated general strikes to press its demand that Khaleda Zia's government resign and a caretaker government supervise a general election. Efforts to mediate the dispute, under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat, failed. After another attempt at a negotiated settlement failed narrowly in late December 1994, the opposition resigned en masse from Parliament. The opposition then continued a campaign of Marches, demonstrations, and strikes in an effort to force the government to resign. The year 1995 observed nearly 200 days of general strikes disrupting the countries normal activities. The opposition, including the Awami League's Sheikh Hasina, pledged to boycott national elections scheduled for 15 February 1996.
In February, Khaleda Zia was re-elected for the second term by a landslide in voting boycotted and denounced as unfair by the three main opposition parties. In March 1996, following escalating political turmoil, the sitting Parliament enacted a constitutional amendment to allow a neutral caretaker government to assume power conduct new parliamentary elections; former Chief Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman was named Chief Advisor (a position equivalent to prime minister) in the interim government. New parliamentary elections were held in June 1996 and were won by the Awami League; party leader Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister.
1996-2001: Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina formed what she called a "Government of National Consensus" in June 1996, which included one minister from the Jatiya Party and another from the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, a very small leftist party. The Jatiya Party never entered into a formal coalition arrangement, and party president H.M. Ershad withdrew his support from the government in September 1997. Only three parties had more than 10 members elected to the 1996 Parliament: The Awami League, BNP, and Jatiya Party. Jatiya Party president, Ershad, was released from prison on bail in January 1997.
Although international and domestic election observers found the June 1996 election free and fair, the BNP protested alleged vote rigging by the Awami League. Ultimately, however, the BNP party decided to join the new Parliament. The BNP soon charged that police and Awami League activists were engaged in large-scale harassment and jailing of opposition activists. At the end of 1996, the BNP staged a parliamentary walkout over this and other grievances but returned in January 1997 under a four-point agreement with the ruling party. The BNP asserted that this agreement was never implemented and later staged another walkout in August 1997. The BNP returned to Parliament under another agreement in March 1998.
In June 1999, the BNP and other opposition parties again began to abstain from attending Parliament. Opposition parties have staged an increasing number of nationwide general strikes, rising from 6 days of general strikes in 1997 to 27 days in 1999. A four-party opposition alliance formed at the beginning of 1999 announced that it would boycott parliamentary by-elections and local government elections unless the government took steps demanded by the opposition to ensure electoral fairness. The government did not take these steps, and the opposition has subsequently boycotted all elections, including municipal council elections in February 1999, several parliamentary by-elections, and the Chittagong city corporation elections in January 2000. The opposition demands that the Awami League government step down immediately to make way for a caretaker government to preside over parliamentary and local government.
2001-2006: Khaleda Zia
A Khaleda-led four-party alliance won two-thirds of total parliamentary seats, while Awami League won only 62 seats that represent the smallest opposition after 1991. Khaleda Zia won a second term in 2001. Her coalition included several Islamist parties. On 21 August 2004 a group of terrorists conducted vicious grenade attack on a rally held by the opposition party Awami League including leader Sheikh Hasina. Prominent leaders including Ivy Rahman were killed in the attack, and Hasina herself sustained injuries to her ears. The Awami League called for a nationwide hartal (general strikes) on 23 and 24 August 2004 following the incident. Begum Khaleda Zia, then Prime Minister of Bangladesh condemned the attacks, and also vowed a thorough probe to catch the culprits. It was later revealed that Tarique Rahman son of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia masterminded the attack.
2006-2008: caretaker government
An election was scheduled for the beginning of 2007, however it did not take place. The caretaker government was accused of BNP bias by Hasina and her coalition, who fomented nationwide protests and shut-downs. Given the parties' failure to agree on a candidate For Chief Advisor, according to the constitution the position devolved to the President, Iajuddin Ahmed, serving since 2002. He took it on in addition to his regular responsibilities, which under the caretaker government included the Defense Ministry. Iajuddin Ahmed formed a government, appointing ten advisors to a council to act as ministers. He appointed his press spokesman, the journalist-editor turned politician M Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury, as his chief Presidential Advisor, with the status of Minister of State. Chowdhury had the responsibility to negotiate with the political parties to bring them to participation in the election. In January 2007, Iajuddin Ahmed stepped down as the head of the caretaker government, under pressure from the military. Fakhruddin Ahmed, former World Bank economist, was selected to replace him and with the commitment to rooting out corruption and preparing a better voter list. A State of Emergency was declared and a massive campaign to crack down on corruption was undertaken. By July 2007 some 200,000 people had been arrested. The government said it would hold elections before the end of 2008.
In April 2007, Ahmed's military backed administration attempted to reform the political parties by exiling Hasina and Zia, but they backed down amid domestic and international protestations. Hasina, who had been visiting her children in the US, was allowed to return but she had to face serious charges, including involvement in the assassination of four political rivals. In July, she was taken into custody after two businessmen testified that she had extorted ৳80 million (US$1.16 million) from them. This provoked angry protests from her supporters; even her bitter rival Khaleda Zia, as well as six British MPs and MEPs, called for her release. Khaleda herself faced charges of tax evasion.
2009-2014: Sheikh Hasina
The Awami League came to power by winning the vast majority of parliament seats in the election held on 29 December 2008, and Sheikh Hasina became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for the second time. Her cabinet took oath on 6 January 2009. The first two years under this government was peaceful, but a debatable issue took place when the Awami League government enforced an existing law to reclaim the house where Khaleda Zia had lived for nearly 40 years for a nominal cost. Khaleda Zia moved to the house of her brother Sayeed Iskandar at Gulshan.
Controversy erupted in 2011 when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared the abolition of the care-taker government system, contradicting her own motives and views in the mid 90s when she had demanded that elections should be held under neutral care-taker governments. Hasina justified this by stating that a neutral care-taker government may abuse its power (referring to the care-taker government crisis in 2006-2008) and take unlawful and autocratic control of the country. At the same time, arrests and trials of members accused of war crimes of the political party Jamat-e-Islami had begun. This caused major disagreements among the ruling Awami League with the chief opposition party BNP and its major ally Jamat. In 2012 a coup attempt against Hasina by mid ranking army officers was stopped, with Bangladesh army being tipped off by Indian intelligence agency.
The period 2012-2014 was marked by widespread political unrest and violence in the form of strikes, riots and acts of vandalism which led to massive property damages, economic losses and death of many ordinary citizens. Petrol bombs and cocktails were being used at their peaks. But the ruling party remained committed to their decision and compared the ongoing protests to acts of terrorism. Both the ruling party and the opposition received foreign criticism. The scheduled date of the 10th general election was 5 January 2014. The opposition party received several pleas by the ruling party to abandon their path of violence and join the election, but they repeatedly declined. Despite the crisis the controversial 5 January election was held (a few election centers were bombed by BNP-Jamat supporters, voters faced harassment and some were even killed). with mass boycott from BNP and its major allies. Awami League had a landslide victory, and Sheikh Hasina was sworn in as Prime Minister for the third time on 9 January 2014, while Rowshan Ershad of the Jatiya Party became the new leader of the opposition, as Khaleda-led BNP boycotted the election. The ongoing BNP-Jamat protests diluted after failing to stop the January 2014 election, and overthrow the ruling party, and by April, political stability was reached.
2014-Present: Sheikh Hasina
In the tenth general election, Sheikh Hasina won a controversial one-sided walkover election after her main rival Khaleda Zia and all other opposition parties boycotted the polls. Over a 100 people were killed in the 2016 Union Parishad Election in violent clashes between Awami League and BNP supporters. Later in 2016 Hasina called for the preparations of the next general elections, scheduled for 2019.
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