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Bangladesh’s Imperilled Democracy

Bangladesh's Imperilled Democracy

By: Uzair Salman

Implications of Khaleda Zia’s imprisonment

On February 08, a court in Bangladesh sentenced the former prime minister and head of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Khaleda Zia to five years in jail after she was found guilty of stealing $252,000 from the Zia Orphanage Trust – a trust created for an orphanage – a charge she had dismissed as “politically motivated”. Her son, Tarique Rahman, and four others were also jailed for 10 years each at the end of a case that lasted nearly 10 years. Her conviction was no surprise given the political theatrics from the ruling party and the opposition. Khaleda Zia’s conviction has added an impetus to international concerns for transparency in governance, rule of law and democratic process in Bangladesh.

Introduction

The chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and former prime minister of Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia has been sent to jail for five years. The verdict is unique in the history of the country where a former prime minister has been given a high prison sentence for misappropriating a Trust’s funds. It would not be remiss to mention that once before a former president was also sent to jail on charges of corruption for a lesser term for misappropriating nearly five times more that amount.

Although BNP showed its strong resentment to the verdict and termed it politically motivated, it did not call any strike. However, the more worrying thing for Bangladeshis as well as the international community is that Khaleda’s imprisonment will not allow her to contest the general elections in Bangladesh slated for December 2018. The BNP had refused to contest the last general elections in 2013 as well, thereby allowing Hasina to rule the roost for the last five years. But this time the BNP was all set to contest and it was being believed that it would reap the advantage of Hasina’s falling popularity.

In fact, it was also being whispered – loudly – in Dhaka that if elections were to be held in Bangladesh today, Hasina’s Awami League would lose. Bangladeshis say they are fed up with the aggrandizement of power in Hasina’s hands, even though they acknowledge in the same breath that Khaleda Zia’s time in power was really a proxy for her son Tarique Rahman, who had unleashed a reign of terror in Bangladesh when his mother was prime minister from 2001-2006.

Hasina-Khaleda Rivalry

Sheikh Hasina Wajid and Khaleda Zia, both related to former national leaders – Khaleda is the widow of Ziaur Rahman, the 7th President of Bangladesh whereas Sheikh Hasina Wazed is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, first president of Bangladesh – have dominated Bangladesh politics for more than two decades, and have nursed a long, bitter rivalry.

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