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Khaleda Zia, 2001-2006

Khaleda ZiaIn 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. The four-party alliance led by the BNP won over a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Begum Khaleda Zia was sworn in on October 10, 2001 as the Prime Minister of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh for the the third time (first in 1991, second after the February 15, 1996 elections, though she did not take office after the later election, which was superceeded by the Jun 1996 election, which she lost).

Despite her August pledge and all election monitoring groups declaring the election free and fair (many going as far as labeling it the freest and fairest in Bangladesh's history), Sheikh Hasina condemned the election and disputed its results. Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League continue to call for new elections and boycott Parliament, alleging the Khaleda Zia government is using the police and security forces to persecute members of the opposition.

In 2002, Sheikh Hasina led her party legislators back to Parliament, but the Awami League again walked out in June 2003 to protest derogatory remarks about Hasina by a State Minister and the allegedly partisan role of the Parliamentary Speaker. In June 2004, the AL returned to Parliament without having any of their demands met. They then attended Parliament irregularly before announcing a boycott of the entire June 2005 budget session.

On August 17, 2005, near-synchronized blasts of improvised explosive devices in 63 out of 64 administrative districts targeted mainly government buildings and killed two persons. An extremist Islamist group named Jama'atul Mujahideen, Bangladesh (JMB) claimed responsibility for the blasts, which aimed to press home JMB's demand for a replacement of the secular legal system with Islamic sharia courts. Subsequent attacks on the courts in several districts killed 28 people, including judges, lawyers, and police personnel guarding the courts. A government campaign against the Islamic extremists led to the arrest of hundreds of senior and mid-level JMB leaders. Six top JMB leaders were tried and sentenced to death for their role in the murder of two judges; another leader was tried and sentenced to death in absentia in the same case.

In February 2006, the AL returned to Parliament, demanded early elections, and requested significant changes in the electoral and caretaker government systems to stop alleged moves by the ruling coalition to rig the next election. The AL blamed the BNP for several high-profile attacks on opposition leaders and asserted the BNP was bent on eliminating Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League as a viable force. The BNP and its allies accused the AL of maligning Bangladesh at home and abroad out of jealousy over the government's performance on development and economic issues. Dialogue between the Secretaries General of the main ruling and opposition parties failed to sort out the electoral reform issues.

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 January 22. On 11 January 2007, in the wake of political unrest, President Iajuddin Ahmed, the head of state and then head of the caretaker government, declared a state of emergency and postponed the elections. With support from the military, President Ahmed appointed a new caretaker government led by Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, the former Bangladesh Bank governor. In July 2007 Ahmed announced that elections would be held by the end of 2008, after the implementation of electoral and political reforms.

A court in Bangladesh issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Khaleda Zia on 30 March 2016 over the 2015 fire-bombing of a bus that killed two people and injured many others. Zia and 27 other leaders from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are accused of instigating the bombing during an event that saw protesters across the country blockade roads and strike in an effort to topple the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The protests led to a wave of violence that left more than 120 people dead and another 15,000 opposition supporters were arrested. Protesters launched firebomb attacks on buses and trucks and police responded in turn by shooting at them with live ammunition.

This wasn’t the first time Hasina’s government has issued an arrest warrant for Zia. Another was issued in 2015, but police never acted to execute the warrant. It was initially unclear whether police would execute the new warrant either. Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, another opposition party official, was arrested on separate charges related to the 2015 firebombing incidents. He was quickly granted bail due to health concerns.

Khaleda Zia was sentenced to five years in prison on corruption charges. The 72-year-old Zia received the verdict 08 February 2018 in a courtroom in the capital, Dhaka. She was convicted of embezzling up to $250,000 from a trust fund dedicated to an orphanage during her tenure as prime minister from 2001-2006. Zia's son, Tarique Rahman, and four other people convicted in the case were sentenced by the judge to 10 years in prison for their involvement in the crime. Her son lives in exile in London.

The conviction barred Zia, the head of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, from running in the next national elections set for December. Her lawyers denounced the case as politically motivated. Thousands of Zia's supporters poured onto the streets of Dhaka ahead of Thursday's hearing and escorted her motorcade to the courtroom, despite the heavy presence of police deployed throughout the city. Police fired tear gas at the demonstrators ahead of Zia's hearing.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2018 18:50:56 ZULU