|English: Sheikh Hasina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Sheikh Hasina (Bengali: শেখ হাসিনা Shekh Hasina) (born 28 September 1947) has been Prime Minister of Bangladesh since 2009, she was also Prime Minister from 1996 to 2001. Hasina has led the Bangladesh Awami League since 1981 and is the eldest of five children of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father and first President of Bangladesh, and widow of a reputed nuclear scientist, M. A. Wazed Miah. Hasina’s party defeated the BNP-led Four-Party Alliance in the 2008 parliamentary election, thus assuring her of the post of prime minister.
Hasina’s political career has spanned more than four decades during which she has been both Prime Minister and opposition leader. Her first stint as Prime Minister was from 1996 till 2001 when her party suffered a landslide defeat. As opposition leader, she was the target of an assassination attempt in 2004. In 2007, she was arrested for corruption charges by the Caretaker Government during the 2006–2008 Bangladeshi political crisis. She returned as Prime Minister after a landslide victory in 2008.
Movement against General Ershad’s autocracy
While living in self-exile in India, Hasina was elected President of the Bangladesh Awami League in 1981. After she returned to Bangladesh, President Ziaur Rahman was assassinated in yet another coup in May 1981. The following year, General Hossain Mohammad Ershad captured power through a bloodless coup and declared martial law. She was in and out of detention throughout the 1980s. Her party, along with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Ziaur Rahman’s widow Khaleda Zia, was instrumental in the movement against the military rule. In 1984, Hasina was put under house arrest in February and then again in November. In March 1985, she was put under house arrest for three months. In 1990, Hasina’s 8-party alliance was instrumental along with another BNP-led alliance in finally removing the Ershad regime.
There are some contradictions in her role. Among them, Hasina supported abortive military coup led by Lt. General A S M Nasim in 1996 and coming back to power in the same year gave Nasim normal retirement instead of earlier dismissal order. She also supported Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed’s military coup in 2007 and promised to legitimate his illegal regime. At her instruction Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil signed treaty with Jatiya Party to make H M Ershad President. She committed Moeen to make President as well. Another 5 points treaty was signed with Khelafat Majlish to ban Kadiyani in Bangladesh and formulate Blashfemy law and all these agreements were breached. Hasina promoted General Masud with extensions both in civil and military services, who is Khaleda Zia’s relative and acted against her too.
Leader of the opposition
Hasina and the Awami League participated in the 1986 Parliamentary elections held under President Lieutenant-General Hossain Mohammad Ershad. She served as the leader of the opposition in 1986–1987. Hasina’s decision to take part in the election has been criticised by her opponents, since the election was held under dictatorial rule. Her supporters maintain that she used the platform effectively to challenge Ershad’s rule. The parliament was dissolved in December 1987. Being the leader of the opposition Hasina always pushed the govt. to render accountability and transparency in all sphere of life criticising the activities of the cabinet.
The first democratic elections were held in 1991 after a long period of military rule. A caretaker government, headed by Shahabuddin Ahmed, the outgoing chief justice, oversaw the elections. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won the election, and Hasina’s Awami League emerged as the largest opposition party. Hasina was defeated in the Dhaka constituencies that she contested by Sadeque Hossain Khoka, later Mayor of Dhaka and Major Abdul Mannan (Retd.), later State Minister for Civil Aviation and Textile and now Secretary General of Bikalpa Dhara but was elected to the Parliament from her home constituency in Gopalganj. Hasina accused the BNP of “nuanced rigging” in elections. Hasina, nevertheless, offered to resign as the party president but later stayed on at the request of party leaders. Khaleda Zia of the BNP took office as the first female Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
Politics in Bangladesh took a decisive turn in 1994, after Magura by-elections. This election was held after the MP for that constituency, a member of Hasina’s party, died. The Awami League was expected to win it back, but the seat was won by the BNP. The opposition parties accused the BNP of widespread rigging and the election commission of incompetence. The Awami League, with other opposition parties, demanded that the next general elections be held under a caretaker government, and that the notion of a caretaker government be incorporated in the constitution. The ruling party of Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s arch rival, refused to give in to these demands.
Opposition parties launched an unprecedented campaign, calling strikes for weeks on end. The government accused them of destroying the economy while the opposition countered that BNP could solve this problem by acceding to their demands. In late 1995, the MPs of the Awami League and other parties lost their seats due to prolonged absence from parliament. The government declared elections on 15 February 1996, an election that was boycotted by all major parties except the ruling BNP. Hasina claimed that the election was a farce. The elected parliament, composed mostly of BNP members, finally amended the constitution to create provisions for a caretaker government. The next parliamentary elections were held under a caretaker government headed by Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman on 30 June 1996.
Landslide defeat (2001 election)
The Awami League succumbed to a landslide defeat in the 2001 Parliament elections. It won only 62 seats in the Parliament, while the ‘Four Party Alliance’ led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party won 234 seats, giving them a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Hasina herself was defeated in a constituency in Rangpur, which happened to contain her husband’s home town, but won in two other seats. Hasina and the Awami League rejected the results, claiming that the election was rigged with the help of the President and the Caretaker government. However, the international community was largely satisfied with the elections and the ‘Four Party Alliance’ went on to form the government.
The Awami League has been irregular in attending the Parliament ever since. Hasina maintains that the ruling party didn’t give the opposition enough time on the floor. In late 2003, the Awami League started its first major anti-government movement, culminating in the declaration by party general secretary Abdul Jolil that the government would fall before 30 April 2004. This failed to happen and was seen as a blow to the party and Hasina herself, who had implicitly supported Jalil.
2004 assassination attempt
During her second term as leader of the opposition, there were several assassinations and attempted killings of important party personnel, including an attack on Sheikh Hasina. Ahsanullah Master, an MP, was killed in 2004. This was followed by a grenade attack on Hasina in Dhaka, resulting in the death of 21 party supporters, including party women’s secretary Ivy Rahman. Finally, her ex-finance minister, Shah M S Kibria, was killed in a grenade attack in Sylhet.
In June 2005, the Awami League got a boost when Awami League-nominated incumbent mayor A.B.M. Mohiuddin Chowdhury won the important mayoral election in Chittagong, the port city and second largest city in Bangladesh. This election was seen as a showdown between the opposition and the ruling party.
Political situation, caretaker government and military intervention 2006–2008
The planned January 22, 2007, elections were marred by controversy. The Awami League and its allies protested, saying that the elections would not be fair because of alleged bias by the caretaker government in favour of Khaleda Zia and the BNP. Hasina demanded that the head of the caretaker government, President Iajuddin Ahmed, step down. In this situation President’s Advisor Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury met Hasina at Sudha Sadan, negotiated, met demands of Awami League and its allies and solved political problems, which followed Hasina and other leaders meeting with President Iajuddin Ahmed at Bangabhaban. Mukhles Chowdhury also met Khaleda Zia in the mission of solving problems. As a result, all political parties including Awami League participated in planned 22 January 2007 elections. In the meantime, H M Ershad’s nomination was cancelled through conspiracy in order to foil the elections. Presidential Advisor tried the best to stop it. As army group finally became united through one Aminul Karim’s initiative and also Ershad’s nomination was cancelled, Hasina on 3 January 2007 announced that the Awami League and its allies would boycott the elections. Later in the month a state of emergency was imposed, Ahmed stepped down, and the elections were postponed.
Extortion allegations and criminal charges
On 9 April 2007, it was announced that Bangladesh police were investigating extortion charges against Hasina. She was accused of forcing Bangladeshi businessman Tajul Islam Farooq to pay bribes before his company could build a power plant in 1998. Farooq said that he paid Hasina 30 million takas (US$441,000, or €383,211) to get his project approved by the government, according to a police official.
On 11 April 2007, murder charges were filed against her by the police, alleging that she masterminded the killing of four supporters of a rival political party in October 2006. The four alleged victims were beaten to death during clashes between the Awami League and rival party activists. Deputy police commissioner, Shahidul Haq Bhuiyan said “detective branch police submitted the charge-sheet of the case to a Dhaka court today after carrying out investigations and taking evidence.” She was visiting the United States at the time.
The interim administration subsequently took steps to prevent Hasina’s return to Bangladesh, with The New Nation newspaper reported on 17 April 2007 that airlines had been asked not to allow her to return to Dhaka. She had been planning to return on 23 April 2007. On 18 April 2007, the government barred Hasina from her planned return, stating that she had made provocative statements and that her return could cause disorder. This was described as a temporary measure. Hasina vowed to return home anyway, and on 22 April 2007, a warrant was issued by a Bangladeshi court for her arrest. On the same day, Hasina attempted to board a flight back to Bangladesh in London but was not allowed on the flight. Labelling the case against her as “totally false and fake”, Hasina said that she wanted to defend herself against the charges in court. On 23 April 2007, the arrest warrant was suspended, and on 25 April 2007, the ban on Hasina’s entry into the country was dropped.
With her rival Khaleda Zia being pressured to go into exile at the same time, the government’s actions against Hasina appeared to be an attempt to restructure the political system rather than an attempt to support her rival.
After spending 51 days in the United States and the UK, on 7 May 2007 Hasina arrived at Airport in Dhaka where she was greeted by a jubilant crowd of several thousands. At the airport Hasina told reporters that it was a mistake for the government to stop her from returning and that she hoped it would not make a bigger mistake”, while acknowledging that its reversal was a positive gesture.
July 2007 arrest
On 16 July 2007, Hasina was arrested by state police at her home and taken before a local court in Dhaka. She was accused of extortion and denied bail on the same day, and was held in a building converted into a jail on the premises of the National Parliament. According to the Awami League, the arrest was politically motivated.
On 17 July 2007, the Anti-Corruption Commission sent a notice to Hasina, along with Zia, requesting that details of her assets be submitted to the Commission within one week.
Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy stated that the caretaker government were going beyond their limits, saying he did not plan to return to Bangladesh immediately, but would try to organise worldwide protest. The arrest was widely seen as move by the military-backed interim government to force Hasina from Bangladesh into political exile. Earlier attempts had been made to bar her from coming back to Bangladesh. United Kingdom MPs condemned the arrest.
On 30 July 2007, the Dhaka High Court suspended the extortion trial of her and ordered her release on bail. On 2 September 2007, an additional case was filed against Hasina by the Anti-Corruption Commission regarding the awarding of a contract for the construction of a power plant in 1997, for which she allegedly took a bribe of 30 million takas and kept the contract from going to the lowest bidder; six others were also accused of involvement. This coincided with a case filed against Zia on the same day.
On 13 January 2008, she was indicted by a special court along with two of her relatives, her sister Sheikh Rehana and her cousin Sheikh Selim, on extortion charges. On 6 February, however, the High Court stopped the trial, ruling that she could not be prosecuted under emergency laws for alleged crimes committed prior to the imposition of the state of emergency.
On 11 June 2008, Hasina was released on parole for medical reasons and the next day she flew to the United States to be treated for hearing impairment, eye problems and high blood pressure.  Prof. Syed Modasser Ali, her personal physician, threatened to sue the caretaker government over negligence regarding Hasina’s treatment during her detention.[28