|Begum Khaleda Zia, Chairperson of BNP, leader of the Opposition, former |
Prime Minister of Bangladesh, unveiling some books on democracy
and human rights in Dhaka earlier in 2012.
Begum Khaleda Zia is the Chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of the largest political party of Bangladesh. Begum Zia is mostly known for her moderate view of democracy, human rights, development, trade, education and tolerance of all views, religions, casts and communities.
She was the first woman in the country's history and second in the Muslim world (after Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan in 1988–1990) to head a democratic government as prime minister. She is the widow of President Ziaur Rahman, who was assassinated in 1981. President Ziaur Rahman was the most populous Leader of the Nation for his philosophy of multi-party democracy system instead of single party dictatorship.
After a bloodless coup in 1982, led by Army General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, Khaleda Zia led the BNP. She has been elected as Prime Minister three times, and she has been elected to five separate parliamentary constituencies in the general elections of 1991, 1996 and 2001. She did not even fail in any parliamentary election from any where of the country till now.
Forbes magazine ranked Mrs. Zia at number 29 in 2005 and number 33 in 2006 in its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World.
A neutral caretaker government oversaw elections on 27 February 1991 that were broadly considered to be free, fair and truly democratic. The BNP won 140 seats, 11 short of a majority. However, it was the only party capable of forming a government, and Khaleda Zia was sworn in as the country's first female prime minister on 20th March with the support of a majority of the deputies. Acting president Shahabuddin Ahmed granted her nearly all of the powers that were vested in the president at the time, effectively returning Bangladesh to a parliamentary system. With a unanimous vote cutting across all political lines, the BNP-led government formally restored the parliamentary system through the 12th amendment to the Constitution in 1991.
The BNP had a landslide victory on 15th February 1996 general election to the sixth Jatiya Sangshad. The election was, however, boycotted by all other major parties, Awami League, Jamaat Islami and Jatiya Party, who were demanding that the elections to be held under a neutral caretaker government, following allegations of rigging in a by-election held in 1994. Turnout was estimated at around 25%, though the government at the time claimed it to be much higher.
The short-lived parliament hastily introduced the Caretaker Government through 13th amendment to the Constitution, and then was dissolved to pave the way for the parliamentary elections. In the 12 June 1996 polls, BNP lost to Sheikh Hasina's Awami League but emerged as the largest opposition party in the country's parliamentary history with 116 seats.
Aiming to return to power, the BNP formed a four-party alliance on 6 January 1999 with its former political foe the Jatiya Party, and the Islamic party of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote and launched several agitation programmes against the ruling Awami League.
Khaleda Zia was criticized much for making alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami, the party which opposed the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 on political views and stand.
The four-party alliance then participated in the 1st October 2001 general elections and won the election with a two-third majority of seats in parliament and 46% of the vote and Khaleda Zia was once again sworn in as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
Under the rule of Awami League Government, on 13th November 2010 she was forced to leave her 37th years old, palatial Dhaka Cantonment residence upon an order from High Court Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court.
The house was originally the residence of the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCS) of Bangladesh Army used by then DCS Major General Ziaur Rahman. He kept the same residence even after he had become the President of Bangladesh. The post of DCS of Bangladesh Army was abolished in his tenure. After the assassination of Ziaur Rahman this house was leased-for-life to his widow Khaleda Zia at only ৳101 by then Acting President Justice Abdus Sattar on 12th June 1981, by then Former Army Chief of Bangladesh and Chief Martial Law Administrator Lieutenant General Hussain Mohammad Ershad in 15th June 1982. After Leaving the house, she moved to the house at Gulshan of her brother Sayeed Iskandar.
Begum Khaleda Zia made a number of high profile foreign visits in the later part of 2012. She visited Saudi Arabia in August 2012 after being invited by the Saudi royal family and performed umrah. She called on the Saudi crown prince and defence minister Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to talk about bilateral ties and access of Bangladeshi migrant workers to the Saudi labour market, which to a number of extents was in a decline at the time.
At the People's Republic of China
She went to People’s Republic of China in October, at invitation of Communist Party of China, and called on Chinese leaders including Vice President Xi Jinping and CPC’s international affairs chief Wang Jiarui. The meeting with Jinping was noted to be significant as the latter is set to begin taking over as China’s Paramount Leader by the end of 2012.
Talks in China mostly comprised trade and prospective Chinese investment in Bangladesh, particularly the issue of financing Padma Bridge which was stalled at the beginning of 2012 after World Bank, a major prospective financier, withdrew accusing government ministers of rampant graft. After Khaleda Zia came back, her party BNP, the main opposition, announced that the Chinese funding for a second Padma Bridge was confirmed amid her visit.
On 28th October 2012, Khaleda Zia visited India and was about call on President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a number of officials including foreign minister Salman Khurshid, national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai and BJP leader and leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj. Talks were scheduled to cover issues like bilateral trade and regional security.
Khaleda’s India visit became subject to widespread attention as her party BNP has been generally assumed to maintain a somewhat anti-India stance in face of its rival Awami League’s much assumed acclaim as pro-India. Khaleda Zia amid her meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clarified that her party does not find any harm done to India to come to its interest either politically or nationally. Giving hint that any future BNP-led government would continue the ongoing Indo-Bangladesh effort to fight extremism, Khaleda said, “Religious extremism continues to be a living concern in the region and there is necessity of joint efforts to fight it.”
Despite the fact that there has been a general assumption among the ruling quarters of India that the anti-India forces gain in the greater region when BNP comes in charge of Bangladesh, Indian officials following Khaleda’s meet with the Prime Minister released statements that they have come to agreement with Khaleda to pursue a common geopolitical doctrine in the greater region. Khaleda was yet to call on the national security advisor and foreign minister when the statement came out.
On 24 May 2011, New Jersey State Senate Honored Begum Khaleda Zia as Fighter of Democracy. Both treasury bench and opposition members of New Jersey State Senate unanimously adopted a resolution honoring Begum Zia and all the senators gave her a standing ovation. New Jersey State Senate accorded such honor to any foreign personality for the first time.
Mrs. Zia has now been fighting for restoration of Caretaker Government System (CGS) with 18-parties alliances. It is to be noted here that ruling AL cancelled the electoral system CGS in 2010. AL observed 173 days hartal (strike) during 1994 to 1996 for realisation of the CGS but they cancelled the system from constitution after being in power in the beginning 2009.
However, Begum Zia has now been fighting for the peoples right for democracy for long while her husband presented multiparty democracy in Bangladesh.