June 23, 1996 – July 15, 2001
|Preceded by||Habibur Rahman (Interim)|
|Succeeded by||Latifur Rahman (Interim)|
|Born||September 28 1947 (age 73)|
|Political party||Bangladesh Awami League|
Sheikh Hasina Wazed (Bengali: শেখ হাসিনা ওয়াজেদ Shekh Hasina Oajed) (born September 28, 1947) is the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Having served as Prime Minister from 1996 to 2001 she was re-elected in 2008 following two years of rule by a caretaker government. Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh's first female Prime Minister, preceded her in 2001. She was official leader of the opposition 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 until 2007. She was the first democratically elected Prime Minister to complete her term in office. Earlier from exile she campaigned to end autocratic rule in Bangladesh and to restorer democracy. She has been the President of the Awami League, a major political party in Bangladesh, since 1981. She is the eldest of five children of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the nationalist leader and first president of Bangladesh. A staunch democratic, her political life has had to negotiate a political landscape in which personality has taken priority over policies and the ability to create meaningful change in the lives of the majority is hampered by factors, such as climate-change, over which government has little control. Her party has tended to attract the support of non-Muslim minorities, who regard the party as genuinely concerned with developing the living standards of all Bangladeshis.
The fact that Hasina is her father's daughter has played a significant role in her political life. Comparison can be made with the career of Indonesia's former President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose father like hers was also father of his nation and with her rival, Khaleda, whose husband was a previous President of Bangladesh. Neither nation, however, has a recent history of dynastic rule. However, given the large supply of men with political ambition in Bangladesh, it is invidious to explain her career only with reference to her family heritage. Her skills and ability have all contributed to her success as party, opposition and government leader. Her passionate commitment to democracy, peace and human rights and her ability to generate support from across community divides evidences a desire to build bridges, not barriers. Ending conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts was an early priority of her administration. She has consistently supported policies and programs aimed to empower women and to lift children and families out of poverty.
Sheikh Hasina's political career started as a student activist in Eden College in 1960s. However, she was mostly under the shadow of her father until her family was killed in a coup d'état on August 15, 1975. She and her sister Sheikh Rehana, who were in West Germany at the time, were the only surviving members of the family. She later moved to the United Kingdom, and then was in self-exile in New Delhi, India before returning to Bangladesh, and Bangladeshi politics, on May 17, 1981.
Daughter of a politician in Pakistan, Hasina got involved in politics as a student. While at Government Intermediate College, she was elected vice president of the College Students Union for the term 1966-1967. Her opponent was the leftist student leader Motiya Chowdhury, who much later joined Awami League and became a member of Hasina's cabinet.
In Dhaka University, Sheikh Hasina was a member of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) (the student wing of Awami League) and secretary of the Rokeya Hall unit. During the liberation war in 1971, Hasina, married to M. A. Wazed Miah in 1968, was then a young mother in house arrest with her mother, brothers, sister and her son. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was imprisoned in West Pakistan during this period. After liberation, Hasina's involvement in politics was minimal as Sheikh Kamal, her brother, was touted as Mujib's successor.
Member of the National Assembly
Her political and personal destiny was irrevocably altered on the fateful night of August 15, 1975, when her father and almost her entire family including her mother and three brothers were assassinated in a coup d'etat by a section of disgruntled officers of the Bangladesh Army, some of whom were freedom fighters during 1971. Sheikh Hasina and her sister, Sheikh Rehana were on a goodwill tour of West Germany at that time. Hasina then sought refuge in United Kingdom and later, in India. She was exiled to New Delhi, India until May 17, 1981 when she was allowed to return to Bangladesh.
Movement against autocracy
While living in self-exile in India, Sheikh Hasina was elected the president of Bangladesh Awami League in 1981. After she returned to the country, the erstwhile 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. In 1983, Hasina formed the 15-party alliance to launch a movement to oust him from power. She was in and out of prison throughout the 1980s. She wrote, spoke and campaigned against autocracy and in favor of multi-party democracy. Her party, along with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Zia's widow Khaleda Zia, were 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 at a stretch.
In 1990, Hasina's eight-party alliance was instrumental along with another BNP-led alliance in finally overthrowing the Ershad regime. With others, she campaigned to bring about the constitutional change that charges a non-party, caretaker government with supervising elections between elected governments.
Interestingly, under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Awami League formed an alliance with Hossain Mohammad Ershad's Jayiya Party in 2006.
Leader of Opposition
Sheikh Hasina and her party Awami League participated in the 1986 Parliamentary election held under President Lieutenant General Hossain Mohammad Ershad. She served as the leader of opposition between 1986-1987. Hasina's decision to partake in the election has been criticized by her opponents, since the election was held under dictatorial rule. Her supporters maintain that she effectively used the platform to challenge Ershad's rule. The parliament was dissolved in December, 1987.
The first democratic elections were held in 1991 after long dictatorial rule. A caretaker government, headed by Shahabuddin Ahmed, the outgoing chief justice, oversaw the elections. Bangladesh Nationalist Party won the election, and Hasina's Awami League emerged as the largest opposition party. Hasina was defeated in the Dhaka constituency that she contested by Sadeque Hossain Khoka, a future Mayor of Dhaka, but was elected to the Parliament from her home constituency in Gopalganj. Hasina accused 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 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 of that constituency, a member of Hasina's party, died. Awami League was expected to win it back, but the seat was won by BNP. The opposition parties accused BNP of widespread rigging and the election commission of incompetence. The Awami League, with other opposition parties, demanded that the next election 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, denied 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 retaliated that BNP could solve this problem by acceding to their demands. In late 1995, the MPs of Awami League and other parties lost their seats due to prolonged absence in the parliament. The government declared elections on February 15, 1996, an election that was boycotted by all major parties but the ruling BNP. Hasina claimed that the election was a farce. The elected parliament, almost totally comprised of BNP members, finally amended the constitution to create provisions for a caretaker government. The next parliamentary election was held under a caretaker government headed by Justice Habibur Rahman on June 30, 1996.
Awami League won ten seats in the 1996 parliamentary elections. The support of the Jatiya Party and a few independent candidates were not enough for the 150+ seats needed for the required majority. Hasina took the oath as the prime minister of Bangladesh. She did not vow to create a Government of National Unity. Though some smaller parties and a few individuals from BNP did join the government, the distance between the main two political parties (as well as their leaders) remained as large as ever. Hasina did manage to convince Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, who led the first caretaker government, to assume the post of President. This selection of a bias person as president was praised by her supporters as a proof of Hasina's good will to reach out to the opposition.
A major coup by the new government was to strike a treaty between India and Bangladesh concerning the Farakka Barrage, a bone of contention between the two countries ever since it was built in the 1960s. According to the treaty, Bangladesh was to receive 33 thousand cubic feet per second (930 m³/s) of water. Hasina next went on to create a Peace Treaty with the tribal rebels in the mountainous southeast of the country, thus seemingly solving a problem as old as Bangladesh itself. Though rebel activities have reduced greatly after the treaty, the region remains a hotbed for tension.
On the down side, Awami League was criticized for harboring gangsters turned politicians, most notably Jainal Hazari of Feni. Her government was also criticized for overusing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the media and naming many major institutions and constructions by his name. Awami League maintained that previous governments have tried to systematically eradicate Sheikh Mujib's legacy from the country and that the honor he was getting was long overdue. BNP also accused Awami League of politicizing the administration and state-owned media. Her party was also accused of being lenient towards India, especially after a shoot-out between border forces of India and Bangladesh left 16 Indian and 3 Bangladeshi border guards dead.
During the last year of her rule, Transparency International declared Bangladesh to be the most corrupt country in the world. Though Bangladesh had almost always been in the bottom five, the last position created an uproar and was seen by many as a major failure by Hasina. Though Hasina has been voted out of office since, Bangladesh has remained at the last position. The opposition demanded that Hasina resign and declare early elections, but Hasina refused to do so. She became the first democratically elected prime minister to complete her term.
Justice Latifur Rahman became the head of the caretaker government. Awami League alleged that he was biased towards BNP after he transferred a large number of civil servants immediately after taking office. Later, Hasina would also accuse President Shahabuddin Ahmed and election official Abu Sayeed of biased actions.
Her commitment to development translated into a number of policies and programs designed to increase food production, create jobs and to improve per capita income. She tried to discourage relocation from the rural areas to the cities through the "A Home A Farm" initiative. She also encouraged the development of civil society and co-operation between government and the many Non-Governmental Organizations that operate in Bangladesh. There is a link between Hasina's interest in civil society and her desire to develop a political climate in which democracy can flourish. In 1997 she co-chaired the World Micro Credit-Summit in Washington, DC. Inspired by the pioneer work of Muhammad Yunus, micro-credit has especially helped to empower women and to lift them from out of poverty. Her belief that the minority have a right to protection from excesses of the majority translated into concert effort to end a quarter of a century of conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts between tribal groups and ethic Bengalis. In 1997, a peace accord was signed, which have greater autonomy to the tribal regions.
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 more than 200 seats, giving them a two-third majority in the Parliament. Hasina herself was defeated from a constituency in Rangpur, which happened to contain her husband's hometown, but won from two other seats. Sheikh 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 the Parliament ever since. Hasina maintains that the ruling party does not 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 Jalil that the government would fall before April 30, 2004. This failed to happen and was seen as a blow to the party and Hasina herself, who had implicitly supported Jalil.
In her second term in opposition, Hasina has been faced with assassination attempts against herself and killings of important party personnel. 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 A.M.S. Kibria was killed in a grenade attack in Sylhet.
In June 2005, the Awami League got a boost, when AL 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.
The planned Bangladeshi parliamentary elections, January 22, 2007 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 favor of Zia and the BNP. Hasina demanded that the head of the caretaker government, President Iajuddin Ahmed, step down from that position, and on January 3, 2007, she 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 April 9, 2007, it was announced that Bangladesh police were investigating extortion charges against Hasina. She is accused of forcing Bangladeshi businessman Tajul Islam Farooq to pay extortion money 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 April 11, 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 reporting on April 17 that airlines had been asked not to allow her to return to Dhaka. She had been planning to return on April 23. On April 18, the government barred Hasina from her planned return, saying 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 April 22, 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. Labeling the case against her as "totally false and fake," Hasina said that she wanted to defend herself against the charges in court. On April 23, the arrest warrant was suspended, and on April 25 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 US and UK, on May 7, 2007 Sheikh Hasina arrived at Zia International Airport in Dhaka, where she was greeted by a jubilant crowd of several thousand. 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 July 16, 2007 Hasina was arrested by state police at her home and taken before a local court in Dhaka. She was accused of extortion and was denied bail on the same day as her arrest, and she was held in a building that was turned into a jail on the premises of the National Parliament. According to the Awami League, the arrest was politically motivated.
On July 17, 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 but that he did not plan to return to Bangladesh immediately but will try to organize a protest worldwide. The arrest was widely seen as move by the military-backed interim government to force Sheikh Hasina to leave Bangladesh into political exile.Earlier attempts were made to bar her from coming back to Bangladesh. UK MP have condemned the arrest.
On July 30, the Dhaka High Court suspended the extortion trial of her and ordered her release on bail. On September 2, 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 January 13, 2008, she was indicted by a special court along with two of her relatives, her sister Sheikh Rehana and her cousin Sheikh Selim, in her extortion case. On February 6, 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 June 12, 2008 Hasina left Bangladesh for USA. She would receive treatment of a hearing impairment, eye and high blood pressure problems in the US.
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. Hasina's win has been described as a "secular victory." 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."
By winning an election, serving and handing on the post of Prime Minister to her elected successor, Hasina has helped to stabilize Bangladeshi politics. Her life has been committed to restoring democracy and to creating a civil society in which democracy can flourish. When she speaks of her father in public, she blinks back tears and the desire to preserve his legacy has played no small part in her life. She converted her own home into a Museum, the "Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial Museum." Corruption charges in Bangladesh are used as a political strategy to neutralize rivals, so that those making the allegations can take their place. Hussain and Khan suggest that politics in Bangladesh swirls around charismatic individuals, to whom loyalty is given by the masses. This, they argue, has made it difficult for Bangladeshi politics to develop the notion of a loyal opposition, "the political leaders of Bangladesh place themselves on an unequal position of hierarchy and fail to discuss nationally important issues" with their opponents "as equals." They comment on the tendency to attribute almost magical qualities to their leaders. There is little doubt that Hasina has inherited charisma from her father and that she will continue to play a significant role in Bangladeshi politics, that is, as long as democratic governance remains in place. The aim of rehabilitating her father and of defending his memory can be compared with Benazir Bhutto's in Pakistan. Like Megawatti Sacarnaputri, she sees herself as a symbol of national unity. Her father may well have been inspired by Suharto's idea of Indonesia as a common home for all her people. She attributes her commitment to peace to her personal experience, including the Bangladesh War of Independence;
- My commitment to peace arises from personal experience such as these. I know what war means, what authoritarian rule means and how people suffer when there are no peace and no democracy and people are rendered powerless.
During the movement for democracy in Bangladesh, she had been, "arrested several times:
- There were bullets shot at me a number of times to kill me. But the people are my strength. I am ready to make any sacrifice for my people's interest. There can be no peace without democracy.
In this speech, she also spoke of her efforts to nurture a "culture of peace" in Bangladesh. Peace, she continued, is not only the absence of war but the realization of basic human rights:
- To me, there are no human rights more important than the right to life free from poverty, disease, illiteracy and shelterlessness. This is what is peace. This is what we must attain, and not merely, a resolution or transformation of conflict.
Party sources point out that Hasina did not have to take the personal risks that she has taken but could easily have remained a private citizen.
Unfortunately, her bitter rivalry with Khaleda Zia has led to a political stalemate that has crippled the electoral system, allowing the military-backed care-taker government to suspend many civil rights. According Nurul Kabir, editor of New Age:
- "The Awami League and the BNP were engaged in a cold power struggle, devoid of any political principles. But now the government has suspended the fundamental human rights of all citizens".
Honors conferred on Hasina include honorary doctorates from Boston University (1997), Waseda University, Japan (1997), Abertay Dundee (1997), Visra-Bharati, India (1999), Australia National University (1999), Dhaka University (1999), the Catholic University of Belgium (2000) and the University of Bridgeport, CT (2000). In 1998 she was awarded the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize (for her work in ending conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts). In 2000, she received the Pearl S. Buck Award for 1999 from Randolph Mason Women's College, USA. Both Rotary International and Lions Club have also given her various awards.
- List of Bir Uttam awardees, Gazette Notification of the Ministry of Defence, Govt. of Bangladesh, No. 8/25/D-1/72-1378 December 15, 1973.
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