Her finest hour
One might say this is the finest hour of Sheikh Hasina in her political career.
She is now all-powerful in both houses--party and cabinet--as her leadership is unchallenged. She faces little opposition inside the parliament to run the government. Outside, her archrival Khaleda Zia-led BNP is in shambles.
In foreign policy, she demonstrates her adroit diplomacy, particularly by maintaining good ties with India and China--two behemoths and rivals in regional politics.
The above point became clear during two recent events, first, the visit of Xi Jinping--first ever by a Chinese president in last 30 years to Dhaka--and the signing of deals with his country worth around $24 billion, and second, her subsequent meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Goa. Her strategy for balancing relations with India and China and her success in handling it well has been demonstrated for the world to see.
Relation with USA is now much better than what it was in early 2014. It was reflected in US Secretary of State John Kerry's latest visit to Dhaka last August.
Ties with other global players like Russia, UK and Japan are also in good standing.
And now all eyes are on her as the ruling Awami League opens today its two-day triennial national council in the capital. Her party men in public campaigns with billboards, banners, placards and posters, are lauding her leadership in leading the country on, what they say, the development highway.
A new chapter has been proposed for inclusion in the AL declaration paper lauding Hasina's leadership and the list of international awards and degrees from different universities she received in the last two decades for her contribution to different fields including food safety and women empowerment, according to its draft changes.
"In contemporary politics, Sheikh Hasina is both strength and asset of Awami League. She has taken Bangladesh to a new height globally with dignity and honour," says the proposed change in the AL declaration paper which will be placed at the party council for approval.
The Daily Star obtained a copy of the draft declaration paper which also highlights major development activities-- both at planning stage and under implementation--by the government--led by Sheikh Hasina.
The proposed chapter with the headline "Universal recognition of impressive leadership of Sheikh Hasina for development, democracy, peace and equality," also says, Sheikh Hasina is now a unique statesman for the third world.
As Awami League councilors from around the country gather today at the council venue at the Suhrawardy Udyan to elect new leadership, it now depends on her whether she wants to take her records to a new height by accepting the party's president post for another three-year term.
She has already been elected president in the past seven consecutive councils since 1981 and running the AL, one of the oldest and major political parties in South Asia, for around 36 years.
It still looks certain she will remain at the helm of the party for at least another three years through this national council.
Since the birth of the party about 67 years ago in 1949, none of the previous leaders, including her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, stayed at the party's helm for so long. Before her, Bangabandhu was the longest serving president of AL for seven years from 1966.
It is difficult to find such a track record in other democratic countries in the world.
During her leadership, Hasina had to face very little opposition within the party. She also had to handle little intra-party conflicts, except for the period of the last military-backed caretaker government when a good number of central leaders had moved to reform the party curbing her absolute power.
However, an unchallenged position helped Hasina emerge as the supreme leader of the party and her cabinet during the tenure of her past government between 2009 and 2013.
She had resigned as the AL chief on March 3, 1991 after her party's defeat in the fifth parliamentary elections in February the same year to BNP. But she had to return a couple of days later, on March 5, under immense pressure from her party leaders and activists.
Sheikh Hasina came to her party's aid at a crucial time. She was made the AL president at a time when the party was facing an uncertain future following the assassination of Bangabandhu on August 15, 1975 when his government was overthrown and the country was put under martial law.
In early 1975, the AL was dissolved with the formation of the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League or BAKSAL by a constitutional amendment. It was to be the only political party of the country.
AL was revived during the martial law regime and the party's first council was held in 1978 in which Abdul Malek Ukil and Abdur Razzak were elected as the party president and secretary respectively. But after the council, internecine strife continued to traumatize the party.
Before the party's next council in 1981, the acrimony within the party reached a new high. Against this backdrop, Sheikh Hasina, who was then abroad, was elected the party chief in an effort to pacify the conflict.
Hasina returned to the country on May 17, 1981 and got into politics in earnest. She has been leading the AL Since then. Awami League faced no major split after she took the helm of the party.
Under her leadership, the AL won the parliamentary elections thrice-- in 1996, 2008 and 2014-- and she became the prime minister each time. She has become the longest serving prime minister of Bangladesh. Her party has been completely dependent on her.
It is certain that she will lead her party in the next parliamentary election to be held either in the end of 2018 or in January 2019 with Awami League remaining in power according to the current constitutional provision.
Many, including her critics, however, keep condemning the absence of a mechanism in Awami League as well as the government to ensure balance of power and call it antithetical to democracy.
The absolute powers she holds also put bigger individual responsibility on her to keep everything on right track. Given the overall situation, one might say she is walking a tightrope in her politics.