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BNP Leader Khaleda Zia 1945

Begum Khaleda Zia (Bengali: খালেদা জিয়া) (born 21 May 1945) is the former First Lady of Bangladesh (1977–1981), and then Prime Minister of Bangladesh, having served from 1991 to 1996, becoming the first woman in the country's history and second in the Muslim world (only after Ms Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan) to head a democratic government as prime minister. She served again from 2001 to 2006. She is the widow of the assassinated President and former army chief Ziaur Rahman, and leads his old party Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Of 39 years of independence of Bangladesh, she has ruled the country for about 10 years (being the longest serving Prime Minister of Bangladesh). She has been elected to five separate parliamentary constituencies in the general elections of 1991, 1996, and 2001.

Khaleda Zia (Putul) was born on 21 May 1945 to Iskandar Majumder and Taiyaba Majumder in Birbhum district of West Bengal province, India and later migrated with her family to Dinajpur District. Khaleda Zia is the youngest in a family of four. She has two brothers, Major (Retd.) Sayeed Iskandar, a retired military official, and Shamim Iskander, an engineer of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, and two elder sisters, late Khurshid Jahan Hoq (Chocolate Aapa), former Women's Welfare Minister, and another sister who is deceased. The family originally hails from Fulgazi Upazila of Feni District, Bangladesh. She studied in Dinajpur Government Girls High School and failed in the S.S.C. Examination. In 1960, when she was 21, she married Ziaur Rahman. She is the current leader of the opposition party.

Former president Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad made her husband Major General Ziaur Rahman Chief of Staff of Bangladesh Army after Assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who subsequently assumed power as Chief Martial Law Administrator following a series of military coups on and following National Revolution and Solidarity Day.

Until the assassination of her husband, Ziaur Rahman, in an abortive military coup in Chittagong on 30 May 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 Even when her husband assumed power after the political changes in 1975, she remained a shy and withdrawn housewife spending most of her time raising her two sons, Tareq Rahman (Pino) and Arafat Rahman (Coco).

After the assassination of Ziaur Rahman, Vice-President Justice Abdus Sattar took over as the Acting President and also as Chairman of the BNP. Chief of Staff of Bangladesh Army Lieutenant 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. In 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, the BNP formed a seven-party alliance in 1983 and launched a relentless struggle against the autocratic regime of Lieutenant General Hussain Mohammad Ershad. During the 9-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 6 December 1990.

In the face of a mass upsurge spearheaded by alliances led by Begum Zia and Sheikh Hasina, President Ershad at last handed over power to a neutral caretaker government on 6 December 1990. In the parliamentary elections held under this government on 27 February 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 is a unique feat in the history of elections in the country.

Prime minister

First term

Zia with the then U.S. president Bill Clinton

Zia with the President of Brazil, Lula da Silva.

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.

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 started. 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 on February 15, 1996 general election to the sixth Jatiya Sangshad. 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%, though the government at the time claimed it to be much higher. The short-lived parliament hastily introduced the Caretaker Government through 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.

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 programmes 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 the West Pakistan Army with the help of Razakars (collabortors), 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% of the vote (compared to the principal opposition party's 40%) 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, continuing its spiralling 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.

End of term

On October 27, 2006, 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 of Bangladesh). On the same day evening, a presidential statement declared that former Supreme Court Chief Justice Khondokar Mahmud Hasan (who had been due to take over as Chief Advisor) would not be assuming the role due to ill health. Subsequently, president Iajuddin Ahmed, assumed power as Chief Advisor on October 29, 2006.

After 2006

After tremendous domestic and international pressure and amid Awami League claims of partisanship, President Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed stepped down as Chief Adviser of the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh but remained as the President of Bangladesh. Elections scheduled for January 22 were postponed. The new caretaker government led by former Bangladesh Bank governor Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, in its fight against corruption, has targeted many of Ms Zia's BNP ministers.

Ms Zia's eldest son, Tareque Rahman (Pino), was also arrested in March 2007 for corruption. It was later reported that, beginning on April 9, the government barred other politicians from visiting Ms Zia's residence due to the state of emergency, imposed in January, which prohibits political activity. Youngest son of Ms Zia, Arafat Rahman (Coco), was arrested on April 16.

Since United News Bangladesh (UNB) carried unverified reports of Arafat's arrest on April 16, it cited unnamed 'family sources' as claiming Ms Zia was considering exile. UNB said speculation was mounting Ms Zia would relocate to Saudi Arabia. It also noted her brother, Major (Retd.) Sayeed Iskandar 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. 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. All these reports about exile and government pressure on Ms 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 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.

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

On July 17, the Anti Corruption Commission Bangladesh (ACC) sent notices to both MS Zia and Ms Hasina, requesting that details of their assets be submitted to the commission within one week.

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.

On September 2, 2007, a case was filed against Ms Zia by the interim government for corruption regarding the awarding of contracts to Global Agro Trade Company in 2003, and on September 3 she was arrested. Her youngest son Arafat Rahman (Coco) 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 current Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina (rival of Khaleda), detained in a special jail. On the same day, Ms Zia expelled party Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Joint Secretary General Whip Ashraf Hossain for breaching party discipline. On September 30, Zia was granted bail by the High Court, which also ruled that the trial should be stopped on the grounds that the emergency laws could not be applied to her actions before they were imposed in January 2007. The government appealed this decision, however, and on October 4, 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that she should not be granted bail and that the trial should continue.

After Khaleda Zia was detained, party standing committee members chose former Finance Minister Saifur Rahman and former Water Resources minister Major (Rtd.) Hafizuddin Ahmed to lead the BNP for the time being; Zia's supporters did not recognize this. Bangladesh Election 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.

Ms Zia's youngest son Arafat Rahman (Coco) was released in August 2008, and her eldest son Tareque Rahman (Pino) was released on bail on September 3, 2008. Ms Zia had been granted bail on two of her four cases by this point, but remained in jail because bail had not been granted for the other two. Her lawyers said on September 4 that they would also seek bail for the other two cases.

After Bangladesh general election, 2008

On 13 November 2010 she was evicted from her 37 years old, palatial Dhaka Cantonment residence upon an order from High Court Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court. This 2.72 acre (around 8.5 bigha) house was originally the residence of the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCS) of Bangladesh Army used by then DCS Major General Ziaur Rahman. He kept the same residence even after he had become the President of Bangladesh. Moreover, the post of DCS of Bangladesh Army was abolished in his tenure. After assassination of Ziaur Rahman this house was leased-for-life to her at only 101 by then Acting President Justice Abdus Sattar on 12 June 1981, along with another house (31 kaatha or 0.45 acre) in the leafy Gulshan Residential Area of Dhaka city, by then Former Army Chief of Bangladesh and Chief Martial Law Administrator Lieutenant General Hussain Mohammad Ershad in 15 June 1982. She is now planning to reside in 196 Gulshan Avenue, Block D, Gulshan Thana, Dhaka.

Magazine Opinion

In 2006, Forbes ranked Khaleda Zia at number 33 in its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world.

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