Khaleda Zia

From New World Encyclopedia

Khaleda Zia
Khaleda Zia

9th & 11th Prime Minister of Bangladesh
In office
October 10, 2001 – October 29, 2006
President Iajuddin Ahmed
Preceded by Latifur Rahman
Succeeded by Iajuddin Ahmed
In office
March 20, 1991 – March 30, 1996
Preceded by Kazi Zafar Ahmed
Succeeded by Habibur Rahman

Chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party
Assumed office
May 10, 1984
Preceded by Abdus Sattar

Leader of the Opposition
In office
December 29, 2008 – January 9, 2014
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Preceded by Sheikh Hasina
Succeeded by Rowshan Ershad
In office
June 23, 1996 – July 15, 2001
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Preceded by Sheikh Hasina
Succeeded by Sheikh Hasina

Member of Parliament
In office
March 20, 1991 – July 15, 2001
Preceded by Zafar Imam
Succeeded by Sayeed Iskander
In office
December 29, 2008 – January 9, 2014
Preceded by Sayeed Iskander
Succeeded by Shirin Akhter
In office
December 29, 2008 – October 29, 2006
Preceded by Zafar Imam
Succeeded by Muhammad Jamiruddin Sircar

First Lady of Bangladesh
In office
April 21, 1977 – May 30, 1981
President Ziaur Rahman
Preceded by Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib
Succeeded by Rowshan Ershad

Born August 15 1945 (1945-08-15) (age 78)
Dinajpur District, Bengal
Political party Bangladesh Nationalist Party
Spouse Ziaur Rahman (d. 1981)
Religion Sunni Islam

Khaleda Zia (Bengali: খালেদা জিয়া) (born August 15, 1945) was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996, the first woman in the country's history to hold that position, and then again from 2001 to 2006. She is the widow of assassinated President of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman, and leads his old party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. After 35 years of independence of Bangladesh she has ruled the country for about ten years (longest period). She has been elected to five separate parliamentary constituencies in the general elections of 1991, 1996, and 2001, a feat unachieved by any other politician in Bangladeshi history. In 2006, Forbes ranked Khaleda Zia number 33 in its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world.[1] During her period in office, the leader of the official opposition was also a woman, Bangladesh's second female Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. The bitter rivalry between these two women has dominated Bangladeshi politics for two decades. The fact that Hasina's father and Khaleda's husband were both former Presidents has invited comparison with Benazir Bhutto's role in Pakistan and Megawati Sukarnoputri's in Indonesia. These Muslim women leaders are all related to men who also led their nations.

The implication is that their success is merely derivative.[2] However, in the face of a strong tradition that has opposed women in positions of leadership in the Muslim world, the fact that they have achieved power cannot only be attributed to their dynastic legacies. These women, not least of all two-term Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, possess qualities of leadership, organization and political acumen that has enabled them to dominate their parties, despite the many men who have aspirations to lead these parties and the nation. Khaleda played a key role in restoring democracy in 1991 but her feud with Hasina has put democracy in jeopardy. The care-taker government, backed by the military, has suspended many civil rights and banned opposition to government activity.[3] In the election of December 2008, Khaleda lost to Hasina's Awami League, becoming leader of the opposition.

Early life

Khaleda Zia was born to Iskandar Majumder and Taiyaba Majumder in Dinajpur District on August 15, 1945. Her father had migrated to what was then West Pakistan following Partition from Jalpaiguri in India where he had run a tea-business. The family originally hails from Feni, a southeastern district of the country. She studied in Dinajpur Government Girls High School and later in Surendranath College. In 1960, she married Ziaur Rahman.

First Lady

Her husband later became Chief of the Armed Forces and subsequently assumed power as Chief Martial Law Administrator following a series of military coups; he attempted to move toward a civilian administration by forming the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and becoming democratically elected as President.

Political career

Until the assassination of her husband, President Ziaur Rahman, in an abortive military coup in Chittagong on May 30, 1981, Khaleda Zia had taken little interest in either politics or public life. Even when her husband assumed power after the political changes in 1975, she remained a shy and withdrawn housewife spending most of her time raising her two sons.

After the assassination of President Ziaur Rahman, Vice-President Justice Abdus Sattar took over as the acting President and also as Chairman of the BNP. Army Chief of Staff General Hossain Mohammad Ershad overthrew Justice Sattar on March 24, 1982.

In March 1983, Justice Sattar appointed Khaleda Zia as vice-chairman of the BNP. On February 1984, she became the chairperson as Justice Sattar retired from politics. On August 10, 1984, the party elected her the chairperson.

Under the leadership of Begum Zia, BNP formed a seven-party alliance in 1983 and launched a relentless struggle against the autocratic regime of General Ershad. During the nine-year-long struggle against Ershad, Begum Zia did not compromise with his autocratic and illegitimate government. For her strict adherence to the principles, the government restricted her movements by using prohibitive laws. She was detained seven times in eight years. But undaunted, Begum Zia continued to provide leadership in the movement for ousting Ershad. Like Zia before him, Ershad attempted to give his rule a civilian and democratic face, but Khaleda Zia boycotted all elections during his rule. Khaleda was detained seven times during almost nine years of autocratic rule under President Ershad before his resignation on December 6, 1990.

In the face of a mass upsurge spearheaded by alliances led by Begum Zia and Sheikh Hasina, Ershad at last handed over power to a neutral caretaker government on December 6, 1990. In the parliamentary elections held under this government on February 27, 1991, Bangladesh Nationalist Party emerged victorious as a single majority party. Begum Zia contested from five constituencies in three consecutive parliamentary elections and won in all seats. This of course, is a unique feat in the history of elections in the country.

Prime Minister

First term

With a unanimous vote cutting across all political lines, the BNP-led government restored the parliamentary system through the 12th amendment to the Constitution in 1991. A neutral caretaker government oversaw elections on February 27, 1991, that were broadly considered to be free, fair and truly democratic. Khaleda Zia became Bangladesh's first female Prime Minister with the support of the majority of the members of the parliament. Sheikh Hasina became leader of the official opposition.

While in power, Begum Zia's government made considerable progress in the education sector, including introduction of free and compulsory primary education, tuition-free education for girls up to class ten, stipend for female students and the Food for Education program. It also goes to the credit of her government that during this period, the tree plantation had become a nationwide social movement. Further, it was in this period that the construction of the Jamuna Bridge was begun. Khaleda Zia played a commendable role in revitalizing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. It also increased the age limit for entry into the civil service from 27 years to 30 years and made highest budgetary allocation in the education sector.

Second term

She became Prime Minister for the second consecutive term after the BNP had a landslide victory in February 15, 1996, general election to the sixth Jatiya Sangsad. The election was, however, boycotted by all other major parties who were demanding that the elections be held under a neutral caretaker government, following allegations of rigging in a by-election held in 1994. Turnout was estimated at around 25 percent, though the government at the time claimed it to be much higher. The short-lived parliament hastily introduced the Caretaker Government through the 13th amendment to the Constitution, and then was dissolved to pave the way for the parliamentary elections. In the June 12, 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. The bitter rivalry between Khaleda and Hasina colored the political climate. During their respective periods in opposition, both boycotted parliament.

Third term

Aiming to return to power, the BNP formed a four-party alliance on January 6, 1999, with its former political foe the Jatiya Party, and the Islamic party of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and the Islami Oikya Jot and launched several agitation programs against the ruling Awami League. Khaleda Zia, like Ziaur Rahman has been criticized much for making alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami, the party which opposed the independence of Bangladesh in 1971 and formed Razakar, Al-Badar and Al-Shams team to help West Pakistan to kill thousands of innocent people including the intellectuals of Bangladesh. Around three million people were killed by West Pakistan army with the help of Razakars, Al-Badars and Al-Shams in 1971 within nine months of war.

The four-party alliance then participated in the October 1, 2001, general elections and won the election with a two-third majority of seats in parliament and 46 percent of the vote (compared to the principal opposition party's 40 percent) and Khaleda Zia was once again sworn in as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Khaleda Zia's third term was plagued by rising religious militancy, terrorism, continued spiraling of corruption (including successive damning reports by Transparency International), a rise in alleged attacks on minority groups (such as Hindus and Ahmadiyas as documented by the US State Department and Amnesty International) and an increasingly explosive political environment. A particularly controversial piece of legislation introduced by the government was the banning of Ahmadiya publications in January 2004, which attracted considerable concern from international observers.

She has been accused of governing in an imperial style.

End of term

On October 27, 2006, Khaleda Zia's term in office ended. The following day rioting broke out on the streets of central Dhaka following uncertainty over who would succeed her as Chief Advisor (Chief of Caretaker Government). On the same day evening, a presidential statement declared that former Supreme Court chief justice K.M. Hasan (who had been due to take over as Chief Advisor) would not be assuming the role due to ill health. Subsequently, Iajuddin Ahmed, the current president, assumed power as Chief Advisor on October 29.

2007 political controversies

After tremendous domestic and international pressure and amid Awami League claims of partisanship, Iajuddin stepped down as head of the caretaker government. Elections scheduled for January 22 were postponed. The new caretaker government, in its fight against corruption, has targeted many of Zia's BNP ministers.

Zia's son, Tareque Rahman, was also arrested in March 2007 for corruption. It was later reported that, beginning on April 9, the government barred other politicians from visiting Zia's residence due to the state of emergency, imposed in January, which prohibits political activity.[4] Another son of Zia, Arafat Rahman, was arrested on April 16.[5]

Since United News Bangladesh (UNB) carried unverified reports of Arafat's arrest on April 16, it cited unnamed 'family sources' as claiming Zia was considering exile. UNB said speculation was mounting Zia would relocate to Saudi Arabia. It also noted her brother, Major (Retd) Syeed Eskandar was attempting to negotiate her exit from Bangladesh with authorities from the interim administration. The New Nation newspaper carried a report on April 17 stating Khaleda had in fact agreed to go into exile in return for the release of her youngest son.[6] The report said the Saudi government had expressed its willingness to accept Khaleda and her family members as royal guests. Meanwhile, Bangladesh's The Daily Star quoted an unnamed source who claimed Zia's decision to leave the nation meant authorities would now force Awami League president Sheikh Hasina, Zia's bitter rival who was then in the United States, to also embrace exile.[7] All these reports about exile and government pressure on Zia were denied by the government.

On April 19, Khondker Babul Chowdhury, a member of the BNP national executive committee, filed the appeal urging the court to order the government not to send Khaleda abroad against her wish and challenging the reported confinement of Khaleda to her house. On April 22 the High Court (HC) issued a rule on the government to explain within five days why the court will not direct the government to produce Khaleda Zia before the court to prove that she is not confined to her house. On April 25, in what was viewed as a reversal, the government said that Zia's movement was not restricted and that she had not been under any pressure to leave the country; it also dropped its ban on Hasina's return.[8]

On May 7, the government was ordered by the High Court to explain restrictions on Zia that were said to remain in place.[9]

On July 17, the Anti-Corruption Commission sent notices to both Zia and Hasina, requesting that details of their assets be submitted to the Commission within one week.[10]

Zia was asked to appear in court on September 27, 2007, in connection with a case for not submitting service returns for Daily Dinkal Publications Limited for years.[11]

On September 2, 2007, a case was filed against Zia by the interim government for corruption regarding the awarding of contracts to Global Agro Trade Company in 2003,[12] and on September 3 she was arrested.[13] Her son Arafat Rahman along with 11 others was also detained after police recorded a corruption case against them involving irregularities at Chittagong port. A bribery case was also filed against ex-prime minister Sheikh Hasina (rival of Khaleda), detained in a special jail.[14] On the same day, Zia expelled party Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Joint Secretary General Ashraf Hossain for breaching party discipline.[15]

On September 30, Zia was granted bail by the High Court, which also ruled that the trial should be stopped[16][17] on the grounds that the emergency laws could not be applied to her actions before they were imposed in January 2007.[17] The government appealed this decision, however, and on October 4 the Supreme Court ruled that she should not be granted bail and that the trial should continue.[16][17]

After Zia was detained, some party members chose Hafizuddin Ahmed to lead the party; Zia's supporters did not recognize this. The electoral commission subsequently invited Hafizuddin's faction, rather than Zia's, to participate in talks, effectively recognizing the former as the legitimate BNP. Zia challenged this in court, but her appeal was rejected on April 10, 2008.[18]

2008 Election

After two years of rule by a care-taker government charged with overseeing a new election, voters finally went to the polls in December 2008. The two year delay was caused by an overhaul of the election process with more than 81 million voters re-registered and issued with photo identification cards. Both Hasina and Khelda Zia were allowed to lead their parties in the campaign. National and international observers declared the poll peaceful and fair. The Awami League won a landslide victory, winning 230 out of the 299 available seats. With allies, this gave Hasina a 262 seat-majority. Zia's BNP had allied itself with four Islamic parties and projected itself as the party that would save Islam. Jamaati-i-Islam, a partner in Zia's previous government, was reduced from 17 to 2 seats. Khaleda, once again leader of the opposition, initially challenged the result but attended the ceremony at which Hasina was sworn in as Prime Minister January 6, 2009 and said that she would "work with her rival."[19]


Khaleda Zia helped to restore democracy in 1991 and left office in 1996 and in 2006, enabling a peaceful transition of government. However, she has been accused of manipulating elections results, which for some raises questions about her commitment to democracy as opposed to her desire to govern. Her personal feud with Hasina has spilled over into political animosity between members of their parties that has all but crippled the political process. Consequently, her legacy is a mixed record. Important achievements, especially in the field of education must be set alongside her failure to fight corruption (a charge she makes against Hasina) while her failure to protect democracy has left this fragile and endangered. Yet, as a Muslim woman, to have twice led her country's government is no mediocre achievement. This is proof that women can rise to high office in the Muslim world and perform the duties of office with no less competence than men, even if a case for being more competent may be difficult to sustain.

Preceded by:
Kazi Zafar Ahmed
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
20 March1991 – 30 March1996
Succeeded by:
Habibur Rahman (interim)
Sheikh Hasina
Preceded by:
Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
10 October2001 – 29 October2006
Succeeded by:
Iajuddin Ahmed (interim)

See also


  1. The 100 Most Powerful Women Forbes. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  2. Justin Huggler (2007), Bangladesh Shaken by war of the dynasties The Independent. Huggler says that "Their dependence on dead relatives did not stop them from putting on airs" commenting that Khaleda "ruled 'in an imperial fashion'" citing Ataur Rahman of Dhaka University. Huggler writes, "Much has been made of the fact that politics here has been dominated by women for more than a decade. But it was no triumph of feminism. Sheikh Hasina's and Khaleda Zia's power came from dead men. They are relatives of the two most powerful figures in Bangladesh's 36-year history as an independent country." Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  3. Huggler, 2007.
  4. Politicians barred from visiting Khaleda Zia's residence PTI (The Hindu). Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  5. Bangladesh ex-PM son detained Al Jazeera. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  6. Khaleda agrees to leave for exile: Arafat sent back to Cantonment residence The New Nation. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  7. Khaleda agrees to fly out with Arafat The Daily Star. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  8. Opposition welcomes B'desh U-turn BBC News. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  9. Bangladesh High Court orders government to explain restrictions on ex-prime minister Associated Press, (International Herald Tribune). Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  10. Hasina, Khaleda given 7 days for wealth report The Daily Star 5:1113.
  11. Khaleda asked to appear before court September 27 The Daily Star. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  12. Ex-PM sued on corruption charges in Bangladesh Associated Press, (International Herald Tribune). Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  13. Ex-PM is arrested in Bangladesh BBC. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  14. Bangladesh ex-PM Khaleda Zia, son detained Reuters. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  15. "Khaleda Zia expels BNP Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan," ANI (
  16. 16.0 16.1 Bangladesh Supreme Court rejects bail for ex-premier Khaleda Zia in corruption case Associated Press, (International Herald Tribune). Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Ex-Bangladesh PM Zia denied bail BBC News. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  18. Bangladesh court rejects Zia appeal Al Jazeera. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  19. Jyoti Thottam and Haroon Habib. 2008. A Secular Victory in Bangladesh Election. Time. December 30; Anjana Pasricha. 2009. Sheikh Hasina Wajed Sworn in as Bangladesh Prime Minister. Voice of America. January 6. Retrieved January 27, 2009.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Hakim, S. Abdul. 1992. Begum Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh: a political biography. New Delhi, IN: Vikas Pub. House. ISBN 9848650121
  • James, Lesley. 2000. Women in government: politicians, lawmakers, law enforcers. Remarkable women. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn. ISBN 9780817257309
  • Liswood, Laura A. 1995. Women world leaders: fifteen great politicians tell their stories. London, UK: Pandora. ISBN 9780044409045
  • Opfell, Olga S. 1993. Women prime ministers and presidents. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. ISBN 9780899507903


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