From a housewife to premiership | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 04, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 04, 2007

From a housewife to premiership

Khaleda Zia's political life has been defined by her rise from a reclusive and shy housewife of a slain president to the longest serving prime minister in Bangladesh's history.
First gaining fame as one of the spearheads of the anti-Ershad movement in the 80s, Khaleda subsequently became the country's first female head of government when she won the 1991 parliamentary elections after the restoration of democracy.
It all changed for Khaleda when her husband military leader and later president Gen Ziaur Rahman
was assassinated in 1981 during an abortive military coup and Gen Ershad came to power a year later.
Conspicuous by her low profile and image as the retiring housewife during her husband's presidency, Khaleda rose to prominence when she was appointed vice-chairman of BNP in 1982, the party founded by Ziaur Rahman in 1979. She later assumed the BNP chair in August, 1984.
Much like her political rival--Awami League (AL) chief Sheikh Hasina--Khaleda was brought in to quell the rising tensions within the party, unite the disparate forces within the party and fill in the power vacuum in BNP following Ziaur Rahman's death.
As BNP chair, she worked to unify political opposition to the authoritarian Ershad regime, forming a seven-party coalition alongside a similar grouping formed by the BNP's main rival, the AL.
During the nine years of military rule, Khaleda Zia was arrested seven times.
While she led the BNP's movement against the Ershad regime, she faced three attempts to break up the BNP from powerful forces within the party. Khaleda's adroit management of these three blows to the BNP strengthened her hold within the party and cleared her way to launch the upsurge against Ershad with a united BNP.
By 1990, discontent over Ershad's rule and support for the opposition political parties had grown sufficiently to convince the president to step down and organise fresh elections. Khaleda Zia led the BNP to a convincing victory in February 1991.
The 1991-96 Khaleda-led government was comparatively successful in revising the country's presidential system in favour of a parliamentary system, restoring the country's flagging economy with nominal signs of corruption. But, her government was largely blamed for holding farcical elections in February 1996, which were boycotted by the AL, ensuring a BNP victory, and Khaleda Zia had her second term in office in February. However, agitations continued and she called for fresh elections for June, which the BNP lost to the AL.
But, her last term in office, between 2001-2006, was marked by unprecedented corruption, wide-ranging abuse of power and flagrant violation of state regulations that subsequently triggered the violence and political crisis that precipitated the declaration of emergency on January 11.
She was heavily criticised by senior BNP leaders for stacking up the party leadership and cabinet posts with her sons, nephews, brothers, sisters and other relatives, which was not the case during her husband's regime or her own in 1991-96 government.
A critical turning point and burning example of this unchecked nepotism was the sacking and expulsion of erstwhile president of Bangladesh and BNP founding member, Badruddoza Chowdhury in the same party meeting, which promoted Khaleda's son Tarique Rahman to the post of senior joint-secretary-general of the party.
Khaleda's patronage of the corrupt and criminal elements within the BNP and its coalition partners in government gave her regime an aura of invincibility that allowed her party members--including her two sons--to demonstrate a minimum of accountability for their actions. The BNP had assumed power in 2001 with two-thirds majority.
Her last term in office also saw most violent expression of militancy in the country with her reported patronage of Bangla Bhai, who played a vital part in the creation of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), responsible for the 469 near-simultaneous bomb blasts on August 17, 2005.
The longest serving prime minister in Bangladesh's history, Khaleda Zia was inaugurated for her third official term as prime minister of Bangladesh on 10 October 2001.
Election on 1 October 2001 were preceded by high levels of violent unrest and yielded a sweeping victory of the BNP and its coalition allies. The BNP secured 66 percent of the seats in parliament leaving the AL with just 20 percent. Khaleda Zia was inaugurated as prime minister nine days later.
Khaleda was born on August 15, 1945 in Dinajpur to businessman Iskander Mazumdar from Feni and his wife Taiyeba Mazumdar, a well-known social worker. Her late sister Khurshid Jahan Haq was a minister for women and children affairs and her brother Sayeed Iskander was a member of parliament. She has another sister and a brother.
At the age of 15, she married the then captain Ziaur Rahman in 1960 right after she passed her SSC examinations and then attended Surendranath College in Dinajpur where she attained her HSC in 1962. In 1971, she was under the custody of the Pakistani military with her two sons.

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