Sheikh Hasina, 1996-2001
Sheikh Hasina was born on 28 September, 1947 at Tungipara under Gopalganj district. She is the eldest of five children of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of independent Bangladesh. She graduated from the University of Dhaka in 1973. She was elected Vice President of the Students Union of Government Intermediate Girl's College. She was a member of the students League Unit of Dhaka University and Secretary of the students League Unit of Rokeya Hall. She actively participated in all the mass movements since her student life. Sheikh Hasina is married having one son and one daughter.
> Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with the members of his family was martyred on the fateful night of 15 August 1975. Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana were the only survivors as they were in West Germany at that time. Later she went to the United Kingdom from where she started her movement against the autocratic rule in 1980. Sheikh Hasina was unanimously elected President of Bangladesh Awami League in 1981 in her absence, while she was forced to live in exile in New Delhi. Ending six years in exile, she returned home finally on 17 May 1981.
In the parliamentary election held in 1986, she won three seats. She was elected Leader of the Opposition. She led the historic mass movement in 1990 and announced the constitutional formula for peaceful transfer of power through Articles 51 and 56 of the Constitution.
Following the election of 1991 Sheikh Hasina became Leader of the Opposition in the country's Fifth Parliament, she steered all the political parties in the parliament towards changing the Presidential system into the Parliamentary one.
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 opposition, including the Awami League's Sheikh Hasina, pledged to boycott national elections scheduled for February 15, 1996.
In February, Khaleda Zia was re-elected 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 Mohammed 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.
Despite serious resource and constraints and recurrent natural calamity as well as widespread poverty, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during the first two years of her government, lived up to her unswerving commitment to the cause of peace, democracy, development and human rights.
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 Samajtantric 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.
International and domestic election observers found the June 1996 election free and fair, and ultimately, 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.
At the call of Sheikh Hasina a large number of people of all walks of life expressed solidarity with the movement at the ‘Janatar Mancha' In the Parliamentary election, held on 12 June 1996 Bangladesh Awami League emerged as majority party and she assumed the office of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh on 23 June 1996. After becoming the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina adopted a number of pragmatic policies for overall development of the nation including poverty alleviation. During the last four years her government achieved laudable success including signing of the historic 30 year Ganges Water Sharing Treaty with India, signing of historic peace Accord on Chittagong Hill Tracts and inauguration of the Bangabandhu Bridge on the river Jamuna.
Her first act of peace within months of her assumption of office was the initiative for resolution of the long-standing water-sharing dispute with India through a 30-years treaty. This put an end to a very complex regional dispute.
Her dedicated leadership also made possible a peace agreement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, thereby solving the 23-year old insurgency in the Hill districts of Bangladesh. This peace accord brought an area inhabited by nearly 5 million people of out of violence and into a time of peace and development. Though the international media has not given much prominence to this accord, it is uniquely remarkable because the peace accord benefited such a large number of people and the whole area has been brought under development programs following the complete surrender of arms by the insurgents.
Prime Minister Hasina had been a strong advocate for the Culture of Peace at global, regional and national levels. In many major conferences, she espoused the concept of the Culture of Peace, most recently in South Africa at the 12th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which has a membership of 114 countries. Her initiative has resulted in the first-ever resolution by the Plenary of the United Nations General Assembly on the Culture of Peace. She also provided leadership for the declaration by the UN of the period 2001 to 2010 as the International Decade for Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.
Prime Minister Hasina's determination for the eradication of poverty, in particular through wide-ranging microcredit programs, has been recognized world-wide. Her-co-chairpersonship of the Microcredit Summit in February 1997 which resolved to bring 100 million families of the world out of poverty by 2005 focused world attention to her strong commitment to the eradication of poverty and enlistment of the poorest of the poor. She has been a champion of microcredit by spreading the message in major international forums. Her leadership led to the adoption for the first time by UN General Assembly a far-reaching resolution on the role of microcredit in the eradication of poverty.
Along with poverty eradication, she focused on the empowerment of women and has successfully completed legislation to ensure adequate representation of women in the local government bodies, leading to the election of more than 14,000 women to these bodies in 1997. She has taken major initiatives to stop violence against women and children. She has also provided leadership in the field of education, particularly for the education of girls in her own country as well as advocating it for global support. Her government has greatly enhanced budgetary allocation for primary education focusing on girls' education.
To improve the quality of life of the people of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina particularly focused on human development, paying special attention to health care, family planning, nutrition, women's rights and survival and development of children. At the UN and other forums, she has been a major voice in support of the cause of children and their rights.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has, all along her life, defended human rights. Her active promotion of the rights of women and children has drawn appreciation by both government and NGOs as well as international organizations. She has promoted the right to development as having centrality in the human rights regime. At the NAM Summit in South Africa in 1998, her proposal for a Convention on the Right to Development received welcoming endorsement of the Heads of State and Government. She initiated the establishment of a National Human rights commission and the office of Ombudsperson as well as Bangladesh's recent accession to six major human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Her keen interest resulted in the signature by Bangladesh of the Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and ratification of the Landmines Treaty, being the first country in South Asia to do so. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's initiative resulted in the hosting of the first-ever conference of the Asian parliamentarians devoted to peace and cooperation in Dhaka in September 1999 which elected her as the first President of the Association of Asian Parliaments for peace established at the conference.
In June 1999, the BNP and other opposition parties again began to abstain from attending Parliament. Opposition parties 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 subsequently boycotted all elections, including municipal council elections in February 1999, several parliamentary by-elections, and the Chittagong city corporation elections in January 2000.
In July 2001, the Awami League government stepped down to allow a caretaker government to preside over parliamentary elections. Political violence that had increased during the Awami League government's tenure continued to increase through the summer in the run up to the election. In August, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina agreed during a visit of former President Jimmy Carter to respect the results of the election, join Parliament win or lose, foreswear the use of hartals (violently enforced strikes) as political tools, and if successful in forming a government allow for a more meaningful role for the opposition in Parliament. The caretaker government was successful in containing the violence, which allowed a parliamentary general election to be successfully held on October 1, 2001.
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