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Caretaker Government, October 2006-January 2009

Iajuddin Ahmed Khaleda Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), stepped down as prime minister on 27 October 2006 when her five-year term of office expired, and she transferred power to a caretaker government that would prepare for general elections scheduled for 22 January 2007.

The 13th Amendment to the constitution required the president to offer the position of the Chief Adviser to the immediate past Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice K.M. Hasan, once the previous parliamentary session expired on October 28, 2006. The AL opposed Justice Hasan, alleging that he belonged to the ruling BNP in the past and that the BNP government in 2004 amended the constitution to extend the retirement age for the Supreme Court judges to ensure Justice Hasan became the Chief Adviser to help BNP win the elections. Justice Hasan declined the position, and after 2 days of violent protests, President Iajuddin Ahmed also assumed the role of Chief Adviser to the caretaker government.

On January 3, 2007, the Awami League announced it would boycott the January 22 parliamentary elections. The Awami League planned a series of country-wide general strikes and transportation blockades.

On January 11, the head of state and head of the caretaker government, President Iajuddin Ahmed resigned as Chief Adviser, and declared a state of emergency in response to political violence and allegations of flaws in the preparation for national elections scheduled for January 22. Under emergency provisions, the government suspended certain fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and detained a large number of politicians and others on suspicion of involvement in corruption and other crimes.

With military support, President Iajuddin Ahmed appointed Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former central bank governor, as Chief Adviser to head a new caretaker government. On January 12, 2007, former Bangladesh Bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed was sworn in as the new Chief Adviser, and ten new advisers (ministers) were appointed. The caretaker government postponed the elections, and in February, new Election Commissioners were appointed. Their mandate was to initiate electoral reform, and specifically prepare a new, unbiased voter registry. Registration for the new voter list progressed in the last half of the year, with the effort running ahead of schedule.

The Emergency Powers Rules of 2007 (EPR), imposed by the government in January 2007, suspended many fundamental rights, including freedom of press, freedom of association, and the right to bail. The anticorruption drive initiated by the government, while greeted with popular support, gave rise to concerns about due process. For most of the year the government banned political activities, although this policy was enforced unevenly. While there was a significant drop in the number of extrajudicial killings by security forces, they were accused of serious abuses, including custodial deaths, arbitrary arrest and detention, and harassment of journalists.

The Emergency Power Rules [EPR] restricted freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and prohibited indoor and outdoor political activities. In September the government eased bans on indoor political gatherings in Dhaka but limited the number of people who could attend and required parties to seek permission from the home ministry to hold meetings.

The government implemented the ban unevenly. For example, in April and May 2007 Ferdous Ahmed Quareshi publicly had meetings in support of a new progovernment party, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP). Despite considerable press coverage of these events and media editorials questioning their legality under the state of emergency, the government did nothing to stop them. After the easing of the ban on indoor politics, police prevented the pro-Khaleda Zia (and antigovernment) faction of the BNP from reopening the BNP's main Dhaka office. The government permitted other parties, including the AL, to open offices in the capital.

The military-backed government made it clear that it wanted new leadership for both of the country's two main political parties. In early 2007, the administration tried to force both former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her arch-rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, out of politics. In April, the government tried to exile Ms. Hasina by barring her return from a vacation in the United States. It also tried to persuade Ms. Zia to leave the country voluntarily. The government later backed down, however: Khaleda Zia remained in the country, and Sheikh Hasina returned to a big welcome by her party workers.

Throughout the year 2007, security forces detained approximately 200 high-profile graft suspects. Among those detained were former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, both of whom were charged in bribery cases dating to their government tenures. Using the Special Powers Act that allows preventive detention, the government detained prominent business leaders. The majority of those persons were then tried under existing anticorruption legislation. Most high-profile cases were handled under the Emergency Power Rules and therefore denied suspects both the right to bail and the right to appeal their cases during the course of the trial.

On July 16, 2007 the government arrested Awami League president Sheikh Hasina on charges of extortion during her tenure as Prime Minister. Hasina was released on parole in June 2008 and allowed to travel to the United States for medical treatment. The cases against her continued. On September 3, 2007, the government arrested BNP chairperson and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on charges of corruption. Sheikh Hasina returned from abroad and Khaleda Zia was released from prison to lead their respective parties in the parliamentary election campaign in the fall of 2008.

In January 2008, a reshuffle of the caretaker government took place, which included the appointment of special assistants to help oversee the functioning of the administration.

Municipal elections were held in 13 city corporations and municipalities on August 4, 2008. These elections were judged free and fair by international and domestic observers. The Election Commission registered over 80 million voters in preparation for parliamentary elections, which were held December 29, 2008. The Awami League swept to a landslide victory in what domestic and international observers declared a free, fair and credible election. The caretaker government ended on January 6, 2009 when Awami League President Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister.





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