President Abdul Hamid made a unique record in the history of Bangladesh by swearing in as the head of the state for second consecutive term yesterday.
He is the first politician in Bangladesh to get re-elected as president after completion of the first term. He is a lucky president for many other reasons. He completed a five-year term without being mired into any controversy. None of his predecessors have had such luck.
A seasoned politician and well-known for his sense of humour, Hamid is the seventh elected president after restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991. Seven is universally considered a lucky number. Seven is the most significant number across religions and cultures. So, he may be considered as a truly lucky president!
Among President Hamid's predecessors of the last 27 years since restoration of democracy, Iajuddin Ahmed was the most controversial president due to his biased and bizarre activities including sudden assumption of the office of the chief advisor of the caretaker government at the end of 2006, violating the constitutional provision. [The previous 15 years since 1975 have been excluded in this analysis as the country did not have democracy in that period.]
As the caretaker government chief Iajuddin was a nightmare, engaging in unilateral and controversial activities that served to further deepen the political crisis. That resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency in January 2007 that lasted around two years. On BNP's nomination, he was elected as the president.
Abdur Rahman Biswas was elected as the first president after restoration of democracy in 1991. BNP was strongly criticised for nominating Biswas as its presidential candidate, for his alleged controversial role during the Liberation War in 1971. As the president, he initiated an acute political crisis in 1996 by sacking the then army chief during the election-time caretaker government. It was Justice Habibur Rahman, the then caretaker government chief, who saved the country from chaos by demonstrating his sagacity.
Biswas' successor Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, who was elected president on nomination of Awami League, took the presidency to a new height. He emerged as a statesman and pragmatist, calling a spade a spade.
Justice Shahabuddin was also acting president for around a year after the fall of autocrat Ershad and his government was successful in holding a free and fair parliamentary election in 1991. Parliamentary democracy was restored following that election. He then returned to the office of the chief justice. After his retirement as chief justice, he was elected as president in 1996 on nomination of the then ruling Awami League. Unfortunately, he was dragged into political controversy at the fag-end of his five-year term by the party itself that nominated him as its presidential candidate for his neutral role during an election-time caretaker government.
Shahabuddin's successor AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury was most unlucky as he was forced to resign from the presidency after seven months of his five-year term. It was BNP that nominated him as the presidential candidate and forced him step down from the presidency. That resignation brought fortune for Iajuddin Ahmed who stayed in the presidency for around two extra years after his term ended as election could not be held due to the state of emergency.
Seasoned politician Zillur Rahman's election to the presidency brought an end to Iajuddin's period in February 2009. Zillur, who was elected as the fifth president on nomination of AL, died in office in the final year of his term in March 2013, opening the doors of Bangabhaban for Hamid, who was speaker of parliament at that time. Hamid sworn in as the president on April 24, 2013 and his five-year term expired on April 23. The current Jatiya Sangsad elected him new president last February.
Amidst all the smooth sailing, there is one little blemish to his re-election. Although he and all his predecessors in the last 27 years were elected by parliaments formed through largely free and fair elections, the formation of the current parliament was different. The current parliament was formed in January 2014 through a one-sided election with more than half of its MPs elected unopposed. The present political situation is also unique. The country has never witnessed such calmness in politics since the restoration of democracy in 1991.
Hamid's journey from grassroots to Bangabhaban, the office cum residence of the president, is noteworthy.
Born on 1 January 1944 in Kamalpur of Mithamoin Upazila of Kishoregonj, he started his political career in 1959 by joining the then student front Chatra League. He was actively involved in the Student Movement in 1961 and while studying in college. He participated in the activities of anti Ayub movement. He strongly opposed the report of Hamoodur Rahman Education Commission in 1962. Due to his participation in these activities of student movement, he was imprisoned by the then Pakistani government. He was elected general secretary of the students’ union of Gurudayal College of Kishoregonj in 1962-63 and Vice President of the students’ union of the same college in 1965-66. He had to embrace imprisonment again in 1968 as he led the student movement. He joined Awami League at the end of 1969. Hamid directly participated in the Liberation war in 1971, according to his official biography.
He was the president of Kishoregonj district AL from 1978 to 2009 as well as the president of Kishoregonj district bar association for five times during the period of 1990-96.
His parliamentary career is also eventful. In the National Assembly Election of 1970, he was elected as a junior most member from Mymensingh-18 Constituency. In 1972, he became the member of National Assembly that framed the constitution for independent Bangladesh. He was elected MP for six times since the first general election held in 1973. He was elected twice Speaker of the parliament and deputy speaker for one term. He was deputy leader of the opposition in the House.
As guardian of the State, the president always exercises his moral authority to protect and preserve the constitution and to save his people from political danger. Constitutional experts believe a man of high stature, integrity and experience holding the office of the president can exert great influence on the executive government by way of advice and counselling.
President Hamid's image as being free from controversy and his acceptance among the public may be his major strengths to do so in the coming days.