Hussain Muhammad Ershad (Bengali: হুসেইন মুহাম্মাদ এরশাদ Husein Muhammad Ershad) (February 1, 1930 - July 14, 2019) was a Bangladeshi politician who was President from 1983 until 1991. He had previously served as Chief of Army Staff of Bangladesh Army then, after seizing power from the elected civilian President in 1982 he became Chief Martial Law Administrator. He accused civilian politicians of corruption. When he finally stood for election in 1986, having resigned as Army Chief, he did so without competition from any other major candidate. He claimed to have won 85.6 percent of the vote. However, allegations of vote rigging were rampant throughout his administration. That year, he founded the Jatiya Party, which won all local and national elections during his presidency. Under his regime, Bangladesh did make modest economic progress but this was offset by lack of democratization. In 1987, he gave the military representation on local councils. His reform of local governance, though, was popular. He also initiated land reforms and encouraged the development of micro-credit and of private business. He was praised for his privatization incentives by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He handed relief during the floods of 1988-89 efficiently.
In December 1991, he was forced to resign following a series of strikes, demonstrations and the withdrawal from political participation by the two main opposition parties. He was later found guilty on several counts of corruption and jailed for five years. From prison, however, he was elected to Parliamentary from five different constituencies in 1991 and 1996, and still leads the countries third largest party. His reputation for autocratic rule, for privileging the military, for ruling without parliament and for shadowy financial transactions cloud his legacy. He is remembered, generally, as having harmed the democratization process. Assessment of his administration suggests that any positive achievements are canceled by the damage caused to the nation's political progress and development.
Hussain Muhammad Ershad was born in Rangpur in 1930. He graduated from the University of Dhaka in 1950 and was commissioned into the Pakistan Army in 1952. Between 1960 and 1962, he was an adjutant in the East Bengal regimental depot in Chittagong. He also completed advanced courses from the Command and Staff College in Quetta in 1966. After a brief period serving with a brigade in Sialkot, he was given command of the 3rd East Bengal Regiment in 1969 and the 7th East Bengal Regiment in 1971. During the Bangladesh War of Independence, he was interned along with other Bengali officers stationed in West Pakistan at the outbreak of the 1971 Liberation War and repatriated to Bangladesh in 1973 in accordance with the Simla Agreement between India's Indira Gandhi and Pakistan's Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto.
He arrived back to his homeland—the new state of Bangladesh in 1973, and was appointed Adjutant General of the Bangladesh Army by Prime Minister Sheikh Mukibir Rahman. After attending advanced military courses in India, Ershad was appointed Deputy chief of army Staff in 1975 by Major General Ziaur Rahman when he became the chief martial law administrator (CMLA) following Justice Sayem's elevation to the presidency on November 19, 1976.
Ershad remained loyal to Ziaur Rahman. Major General Zia had been appointed Army Chief by President Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's founding leader, on August 15, 1975, as the country headed towards authoritarian, single-party rule. Although Major General Zia was overthrown in a counter-coup on November 3, he was restored to power in a coup led by Col. Abu Taher on November 7. When Ziaur Rahman assumed the presidency after Sayem's retirement due to ill health he appointed H M Ershad as the new Chief of Army Staff, promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant General. Viewed as a professional soldier with no political aspiration because of his imprisonment during the Independence War in former West Pakistan and having a talent for Bengali speech writing, he soon became Zia's closest politico-military counselor.
After the assassination of Ziaur Rahman on May 30, 1981 Ershad supported Abdus Sattar, the Vice-President who succeeded Zia as President and ordered the army to suppress the coup attempt of Zia's associates, allegedly led by Major General Abul Monjur. It is widely speculated that Monjur was used as a scapegoat and that Ershad himself was behind the liquidation of President Zia. Ershad however maintained loyalty to the new president Abdus Sattar, who led the Bangladesh Nationalist Party to victory in elections in 1982. H M Ershad even allotted a house to Mrs. Khaleda Zia and her two sons when he took over as Chief Martial Law Administrator. Chowdhury speculates that Ershad wanted to assume power but decided to bide his time. Zia was popular, having reintroduced multi-party democracy and although less charismatic Sattar was respected and even admired. Chowdhury says that Ershad instead began to demand an increased political role for the military. He began to claim that the politicians were corrupt and were "ruing the country."
Under pressure from high-ranking army commanders for the military to take over the reins of state, Ershad toppled President Sattar in a bloodless coup on March 24, 1982 and proclaimed himself Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) with Justice A. F. M. Ahsanuddin Choudury as nominal President. Ershad took over as president on December 11, 1983. From the start, Ershad was regarded as an usurper. Opposition began as early as December 1982, when Ershad announced his preference for Shari'ah law. On March 14, 1983, Khaleda Zia of the BNP and Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League were both arrested. They were released on March 1. In March 1985, Ershad held a referendum on his presidency, claiming a "positive vote of 94.15 percent." Allegations of election fraud were rampant throughout Ershad's presidency. Two months later, in a largely uncontested election for local council chairs, Ershad's newly created Jatyo Party swept the board. In January, 1986 he lifted restrictions on political parties and announced a parliamentary election. This was held later that year but due to irregularities some constituencies repolling took place. The BNP boycotted but the Awami League contested seats and won 76. Jatyo won 153. Smaller parties won 39 and independents won a total of 32. The third largest party was the Jamaat-i-Islam with 10. 5 seats went to the communists. Sheikh Hasina became official leader of the opposition but rarely attended parliament, which was by-passed by Ershad whenever possible. His system of governance relied on the secretaries of the various ministries with "little political consultation with the ministers." Three measures that parliament did ratify were especially controversial. In August 1986, Ershad resigned as Army Chief of Staff in order to stand for election as president. This time, both the main opposition parties boycotted the October 15 election, which Ershad easily won against two insignificant candidates. In November 1986, parliament voted to legalize Ershad's presidency from his assumption of power.
Two controversial measures did gain parliamentary approval, however. In July 1987, an Act gave the military representation on local councils. In June, 1988 the constitution was amended to establish Islam as the state religion, abandoning state secularism. This was mainly to strengthen Bangladesh's standing in the Muslim World, not in response to any popular expression of support for this constitutional change. In fact, opposition came from a broad spectrum, including women, the main opposition parties and non-Muslim Bangladeshis. Late 1988 early 1989 saw some of the worst floods on record, and political activity took second place to relief work. Ershad has been praised for his efficient handling of this emergency.
Ershad's regime is remembered as the longest autocratic rule in Bangladesh. There was violence, Human rights abuse and corruption during his tenure. However, he did oversee some positive developments. In several areas, he continued the policies of the previous regime, including encouraging private business, foreign aid and investment and land reform. He established the Ministry of Land to deal with disputes about ownership and to extend ownership to the landless. In encouraging privatization, he helped meet requirements from the IMF and was praised by the World Bank. In October 1983, he visited [[Ronald Reagan] securing continued aid.
His reorganization of local governance proved popular, creating upazilas to replace the much larger Districts, each with an elected council.
During Ershad's rule, the construction of the Jamuna Bridge connecting the country's north and south together, was started. The Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge Authority (JMBA) was set up by an ordinance promulgated by the President on July 3 1985 to implement the project. For mobilization of domestic resources, another ordinance was promulgated by which a Jamuna Bridge surcharge and levy were introduced. A total of Tk 5.08 billion was mobilized in the process till its abolition.
H. M. Ershad stabilized the Bangladesh Armed Forces which was facing a series of Coups and counter Coups ever since its emergence as a nation in 1971. He sent Bangladeshi soldiers on UN peace-keeping missions for the first time.
In March 1989, his administration passed legislation creating autonomous, elected district councils in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. For decades, disputes between the Hill Tract ethnic groups, mainly Buddhist and Bengalis had caused civil unrest.
Ershad's 18-point development program was similar to Zia's 19-point plan. This included ending poverty, making health care accessible to all citizens, extending micro-credit, decentralization of the administration and increasing agricultural output.
By December 1987, the Awami League had resigned from Parliament, which was then dissolved. In November, 1987 a strike shut Dhakka down and Ershad declared a state of emergency. Both the BNP and the Awami League boycotted the election of March 3, 1998. The Jatyo won 252 seats but the "election was meaningless" due to lack of participation by the main parties. Increasingly, the NBP and the Awami League cooperated in opposition, joined by labor unions and by student organizations as well as Jamaat-i-Islami Bangladesh and other parties. The strikes and protests called by the opposition groups paralyzed the state and its economy. Informed by senior military officers that they were no longer prepared to keep him in power, Ershad resigned on December 6, 1990. Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was appointed acting president and a "caretaker" government was formed to supervise a fair and free election. Ershad was arrested on corruption charges.
Ershad faced a range of charges. Some have been dropped. He has been acquitted on several and found guilty of several. In July 1995, he was found guilty of ordering flood rescue craft from a Japanese company when their bid was not the lowest and sentenced to three years in prison. He was found guilty of illegally possessing and benefiting from state owned land and sentenced to seven years, later reduced to five on appeal. In 2006, he was sentenced to two more years in jail for corruption.
Although anti-Ershad sentiment was strong, H M Ershad was allowed to contest the 1991 election from jail. His party won all 5 constituencies which it contested from. Khaleda Zia's BNP won and she became Bangladesh's first woman Prime Minister. The constitution was amended to vest power in a Prime Minister in parliament, making the President, appointed by Parliament, a mainly ceremonial post. The role of a caretaker government between the end of one term and the next election was also formalized.
In the 1996 elections, Ershad again won election from jail, aligning his party with the Awami League, which won, against the BNP. Sheikh Hasina took up office as Bangladesh's second woman Prime Minister. On June 30, 2007, Ershad stepped down temporarily from the post of Party Chairman, indicating an end to his political career. It is speculated that he stepped down under pressure as the Caretaker Government started a series of prosecution and arrest for corruption and criminal charges against political leaders of Awami League and BNP]] including Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda Zia and her son Tareq Rahman among others.
However on April 8, 2008, Ershad took charge of his Jatiya Party once again.
On November 19, 2008, Jatiya Party and Awami League agreed to contest the elections jointly when these are held under the Caretaker Government. Out of the 300 Constituencies in the Parliament, Ershad's Jatiya Party will contest from 50 seats and Awami League from the rest 250, subject to Election Commissioner’s approval of nominated candidates.
Hussain Mohammad Ershad was married to Raushan Ershad, and they adopted a son and a daughter. He also had a son from his second wife, Bidisha Ershad.
H. M. Ershad was allegedly married three times. A woman named Mary Mumtaz filed for divorce from Ershad in the U.S. However, citing the provision for Immunity from Prosecution for a Head of State of a Friendly Nation, the court ruled against Mumtaz.
His eldest son Shad Ershad had his share of misfortune too, when he tried to help a mentally ill girl who ran away from home. The girl's father filed a missing person's case, however the government pressured to pursue the case when it was discovered he was with the Former President's son to discredit him.
Ershad became infamous for extra-marital affairs, which were on the cover of every newspaper in the country soon after his downfall, and continuing till 2006. His affair with Zeenat Mosharraf, a member of Parliament almost removed him from the Chairmanship.
His marriage with Bidisha ended in a bitter divorce and sedition charges brought by the BNP Government against Bidisha. H. M. Ershad divorced her for allegedly hiding her first marriage which still was not annulled at the time of their marriage.
His wife and former first lady of Bangladesh Mrs. Raushan Ershad always stayed by his side despite his infidelity. She was the acting Chairperson when Ershad was in prison, and became the leader a rival faction of Jatiya Party. Raushan Ershad was also elected as a Member of Parliament thrice in the elections of 1991, 1996, and 2001.
Ershad was admitted to Combined Military Hospital, Dhaka on June 26, 2019 and again on June 29 after his condition suddenly deteriorated. He died on July 14, 2019. His state funeral was held two days later.
Ershad served the longest presidential term and is the first former president of Bangladesh to have been sentenced to prison. Ahmed comments on the difference between Zia and Ershad; while Zia's transformation from military dictator to civilian president was largely successful, Ershad failed to make the transition. Zia won the support of the youth, Ershad alienated them and although he tried hard he could not shake the image of being an "oppressive ruler." He is widely regarded as a usurper who toppled Sattar's elected government and set democracy back, especially by privileging the military. Yet, says Ahmed, he enjoyed some popularity, winning seats from jail. Corruption charges against politicians are commonplace in Bangladesh; both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina faced corruption allegations. Chowdhury points out how once the military have seized power in Bangladesh, they are reluctant to relinquish this and that despite some progress under military rule, civilian rule has proved better for "social progress, economic and political development." Choudhury describes that his regime as the most corrupt in the history of Bangladesh and says that he took vote rigging to a new level. Progress, she says, was minimal and the damage caused by "the absence of democratization."
Lt. Gen. Ziaur Rahman
|Chiefs of Army Staff, Bangladesh
Lt. Gen. Atiqur Rahman
|President of Bangladesh
March 24 1982–27 March 27 1982
A.F.M. Ahsanuddin Chowdhury
A.F.M. Ahsanuddin Chowdhury
|President of Bangladesh
December 11 1983–6 December 6 1990
All links retrieved December 6, 2019.
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