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Jatiya Party (JP)

Jatiya Party (JP)While serving as Chief of Army Staff following the assassination of BNP-founder President Ziaur Rahman, Hossain Muhammad Ershad seized power from the President of Bangladesh in March 1982 and declared himself chief martial law administrator. Ershad later became President in December 1983 and subsequently created the Jatiya Party (JP) in 1986 to effectively legitimize his tenure. Ershad's tenure turned out to be the longest period of autocratic rule in the country's history. In 1988, after major political parties boycotted the election, the JP ran unopposed and won an absolute majority in the national parliament.

The Jatiyo Party, created by Ershad and his colleagues, became stronger over time as it attracted increasing numbers of politicians. This process continued into the late 1980s because the strong executive, who controlled the country's administration, media, and security forces, was able to keep opposition parties off balance with a "carrot and stick" strategy. Reverse currents were observed in the mid-1980s, as individual leaders fell from favor and lost their cabinet posts or else left the national party to form their own political factions, but the overall trend was toward a steady increase in the membership and influence of the dominant party.

Ershad, following the example of Zia's Self-Sufficient Village Government Plan, used administrative decentralization to allocate resources to the grass-roots level, bypassing the local opposition party apparatus and providing a strong incentive for leaders at the village level to support his party. This strategy isolated the opposition parties in urban areas, while the national party disbursed patronage in rural areas. The local elites were opportunistic, changing their affiliations in order to obtain the largest amount of aid for their constituencies.

A study of union council chairmen after the 1984 elections revealed that 38 percent had changed party affiliations within the previous 10 years; 53 percent supported the Jana Dal, which had been in existence for 12 months, while only 19 percent supported the Awami League and 8 percent backed the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. In the 1985 subdistrict elections, after the Jana Dal had existed for 2 years, 207 of 460 chairmen supported Ershad's party, and the Jana Dal exercised political control over 44 percent of the nation's districts. This was notable progress for a party with a program essentially the same as that of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (the party in total control only five years earlier), which controlled only 34 (7.4 percent) of the subdistrict chairmanships. The Awami League, which had dominated the nation 10 years earlier, controlled only 53 (11.5 percent) of the chairmanships.

Military support has been a crucial component of the success of the national party. In the 1970s, observers were unwilling to predict the actions of the military because it was torn by internal divisions between freedom fighters and returnees from West Pakistan, political groups of the far left and the right, and factional infighting among leftist factions. Zia moved to stabilize the military through a purge of unreliable personnel, more than 1,100 of whom were executed, and through steady progress in professionalizing the services, incorporating elements from both freedom fighters and returnees.

The strong trend under Zia and Ershad away from the Awami League and the Soviet Union decreased communist and Maoist influences, which had been very strong during the 1970s. By the 1980s, it appeared that military officers were the most interested in adequate financial support for the armed forces and limitation of civilian political turmoil. The slow expansion of the military and the opportunity for military leaders to gain administrative positions under Ershad convinced potential military rivals that he represented their interests.

Ershad at first followed up on his promises to include the military in civil administration through legislative means, but when he later backed away from the District Council Bill, there were no major stirrings within the military. A more difficult challenge was the Siege of Dhaka in late 1987, with massive street violence, but again the military did not act. Apparently, Ershad and his Jatiyo Party were able to keep political disorder within bounds acceptable to the military leadership.

This lasted until December 1990, when a united opposition forced Ershad to step down. The courts later convicted Ershad on several corruption charges and he has since been in and out of jail several times. Ershad's legacy in power was mixed: his regime introduced village councils and land reform but also passed constitutional amendments legalizing the military coup and declaring Islam the state religion. Today many Bangladeshis remember Ershad in other less positive ways -- for introducing massive corruption into the administration as well as for his colorful personal life.

In a riveting turn of events starting 02 June 2005, former President Ershad stripped his number-two wife Bidisha of all Jatiya Party positions, police then arrested her on theft and embezzlement charges, Bidisha threatened to kill her son and herself, Ershad divorced Bidisha as a bigamist, and Ershad fled to Saudi Arabia. Bidisha, it was said, was pushing Ershad to remove ABM Ruhul Amin Howlader as Secretary General of the Jatiya Party in favor of Kazi Feroj Rashid, who recently returned to the Jatiya Party fold from the Bangladesh Jatiya Party (BJP) faction, a member of the ruling four-party coalition.

The police threatened to arrest Bidisha, the 30-something junior wife of the eighty-something former president, on charges to include kidnapping, bigamy, money laundering, and espionage (apparently on behalf of India). Ershad reportedly urged Bidisha to leave the country for her own protection, but she refused, electing instead to assault Ershad and trash his personal effects. Ershad then decided, in self-defense, to have his wife arrested and told police, and the newspapers, that she had embezzled funds and stolen a cell phone from him. On June 2, Ershad stripped Bidisha of all party positions, including her seat on the Presidium. On June 4, police arrested Bidisha at the Ershads' home in the diplomatic enclave after a brief public standoff when she threatened to kill her child and herself. On 06 June 2005 Ershad announced he had divorced Bidisha because she remained married to and involved with the man she had claimed to have divorced before marrying Ershad. "One woman cannot have two husbands but she had," Ershad told the media before leaving for Saudi Arabia. "She has cheated me."

By 2005 the JP was a party in apparently terminal popular decline, with an aged leader hamstrung by 14 corruption charges pending against him from his time as president that are held in suspense as leverage by the BNP and previously the Awami League when it was in power. Howeever, with 14 seats mostly in northern Bangladesh, the Jatiya Party was still a potential player in certain electoral scenarios that involved a broad anti-BNP coalition.

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Page last modified: 23-05-2012 16:10:24 ZULU