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History of Democracy in Bangladesh

Eastern Bengali part of British India at the time of Independence in 1947 was parted from United India, then was called Eastern Pakistan.

After years of a tussle as Eastern Pakistan with Western Pakistan, B'desh parted in 1971.
Following set up of constitution in 1972 which promised of democratic Independence and political freedom within a system of check and balance similar to British India.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay 



Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Mujib), the hero of 1971 war of Independence, won a landslide majority in election held in 1973.


But the euphoria soon evaporated, B'desh was devastated with years of war,  state absorbed industries and businesses abandoned by Pakistanis, but the economic troubles persisted. Prices escalated, scarcities continued and that followed a great famine in 1974, claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Failed with rage, people raised protests,  Mujib amended the constitution and assumed dictatorship.
His successor most of whom were military men assassinated him on Aug. 15, 1975, with most of his family and assumed his power.

As a result, the successive regime established a single party system representing mostly military interests with leaders wielding almost absolute power.

Another coup happened in November same year (1975) and brought Maj Gen Zia -un-Rahman into power, once a freedom fighter, displayed anti-India posture and favoured pro-Pakistan elements.
In an effort to legitimize his power, he held a Referendum on May 1977, and hence assumed the office of president in 1978.

After ensuring his control o'er Armed forces, Zia lifted martial law the following year.
Although accused of corruption, in his tenure he strengthened the military, empowered bureaucracy and improved law and order, emphasized on food production, primary education, initiated economic co-operation with nearby Nations- led to organization of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) in 1985.

Nevertheless, military coup attempts continued, and on May 30, 1981, he was assassinated in Chittagong. Though conspirators were executed.

Interim, the Vice president Abdus Sattar was declared president by nationwide election in 1981, but he was ill, and real power was exercised by Lieut. Gen Hussain Muhammad Ershad.



On March 24, 1982, Ershad ejected Sattar and took o'er as Chief martial law administrator.
(Ironically, the politics of B'desh's autocratic military rulers have been characterised by a commitment to democratic ideals. E.G. Ershad seized power in the name of the constitution and to legitimize his position by claiming that he brought stability to country).


In 1983 he assumed to the office of president.
To validate his authority he called for the election for a national assembly and formed his own party (Jatiya party) in election in 1986, boycotted by many oppositions, he won most of the seats in Legislature.


In his tenure, he withdrew the martial law of administration and established a system of local elections that allowed voters to choose members of local representative councils.
This reform though worked to control government patronage. Nevertheless, became training ground for new leaders.

This main opposition parties: The Awami League (AL), now let by Mujib's daughter Sheikh Hasina Wazed and The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by Khaleda Zia -ur-Rahman, wife of the slain president, boycotted the results, as Ershad received the overwhelming majority of votes.
Followed by violent anti-government protests brought pressure on Ershad, and on December 1990, he finally agreed to step down.


A caretaker government, headed by  Chief justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, was chosen by opposition parties.

In elections held just two months later, the BNP emerged as the winner, and Khaleda became PM
Among Khaleda's achievement in office was the reinstatement through constitutional amendment of a parliamentary (opposed to presidential) form of government.


It soon was returned with strikes instigated by AL and other opposition parties.
The opposition frequently called for Khaleda's resignation, demanding a caretaker government be appointed and new elections are held, but Khaleda resisted.


In Feb. 1996 general elections were held, and again BNP won an overwhelming victory; which AL called hollow triumph, heeding a boycott, under pressure Khaleda stepped down and a caretaker government was appointed.

In subsequent elections, the opposition swept to power, Hasina became PM. Not much changed, this time protest was held by Khaleda, and also beset by a disastrous monsoon, that flooded 2/3rd of B'desh's territory and left more than 30 million people homeless.on other fronts, Hasina strengthened final ties.


In 2002 Khaleda, promising to eliminate corruption, and thus was returned to office, capturing more than 2/3rd of Legislative seats.
Nevertheless, the relation between AL and BNP changed little. Though scant progress was made to curb corruption.

Khaleda stepped down as PM in late 2006, transferring power to the caretaker government until an election could be held.
However, the unrest between AL and BNP led the interim head of government to resign and install a new caretaker.


Before polls could happen a state of emergency was declared, and elections were cancelled.
The new caretaker government perceived the battle between Hasina and Khaleda as a hindrance to the country's stability, and in 2007 both the women were arrested: Khaleda for corruption and Hasina for extortion. Both were released from custody in 2008.


AL prevailed the election held in 2008 and assumed her position as PM.
General elections in 2014 a major setback for democracy in B'desh with growing concerns of corruption and abuse of government tools to suppress opposition.

The BNP refused to participate in the election unless certain demands were met, that it claimed would ensure fair elections.
Naturally, the demands were not met. And hence protests were raised.

Beginning next term, the BNP again demanded certain conditions be met, and again they were rejected by ruling AL, but this time it ended with her imprisonment, which made her ineligible to led BNP.

Many of the party's candidates were imprisoned, disqualified or assaulted, and more than 10, 000 supporters were imprisoned.

AL won a landslide victory, which BNP claimed to be rigging.


Hasina, now the PM says this will be her last term in office, and plans to retire.
This leads us to a conclusion, how a country as blessed with resources as B'desh, could suffer brutally at the hand of people, who once fought for her Independence, are now consumed with power greed.

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