Politics of Bangladesh

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Politics of Bangladesh

বাংলাদেশের রাজনীতি
Bangladesher Rajniti
National emblem of Bangladesh.svg · Government Seal of Bangladesh.svg
Polity typeUnitary parliamentary democratic republic
ConstitutionConstitution of Bangladesh
Legislative branch
NameJatiya Sangsad
Meeting placeJatiya Sangsad Bhaban
Presiding officerShirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Speaker
Executive branch
Head of State
TitlePresident of Bangladesh
CurrentlyMohammed Shahabuddin
Head of Government
TitlePrime Minister
CurrentlySheikh Hasina
NameCabinet of Bangladesh
Current cabinetFourth Hasina Ministry
LeaderPrime Minister
HeadquartersPrime Minister's Office
Judicial branch
Supreme Court
Chief judgeHasan Foez Siddique
SeatRamna Thana

The politics of Bangladesh (Bengali: বাংলাদেশের রাজনীতি) functions within a parliamentary representative democratic republic, with a multi-party system whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government, and executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament. The Constitution of Bangladesh was written in 1972 and has undergone seventeen amendments.[1]

The current parliamentary system was adopted in 1991. Between 1975 and 1990 the country was under military rule. A mass uprising forced military ruler Ershad to resign and hold a neutral democratic election. After the 1991 general election, the twelfth amendment to the constitution restored the parliamentary republic.

After the liberation war in 1971, the new state of Bangladesh became constitutionally secular state in 1972.[2] However Islam was declared the state religion in 1988.[3][4][5] In 2010, the Bangladesh Supreme Court reaffirmed secular principles in the constitution.[6]

The Economist Intelligence Unit rated Bangladesh a "hybrid regime" in 2022.[7]

Main office-holders
Office Name Party Since
National emblem of Bangladesh.svg President Mohammed Shahabuddin Awami League 24 April 2023
Government Seal of Bangladesh.svg Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Awami League 6 January 2009
Parliament Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury Awami League 30 April 2013
বাংলাদেশ সুপ্রীম কোর্টের সিলমোহর.svg Chief Justice Hasan Foez Siddique Nonpartisan 31 December 2021[8]

Political system[edit]


The Government of Bangladesh was constituted by the Constitution of Bangladesh consisting the executive represented by the president, exercised via prime minister and cabinet. The government is led by the prime minister, who selects all the remaining ministers. The prime minister and the other most senior ministers belong to the supreme decision-making committee, known as the Cabinet. The current prime minister is Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Bangladesh Awami League, who was sworn-in by the president on 6 January 2009 following the general election on 29 December 2008.


Parliament of Bangladesh

The legislature of Bangladesh is unicameral. Called the Jatiya Sangsad in Bengali, it is the parliament of Bangladesh. The Speaker presides over meetings of the Jatiya Sangsad and conducts its business in an orderly fashion. The current Jatiya Sangsad contains 350 seats, including 50 seats reserved exclusively for women and 300 seats for elected members, which are apportioned on elected party position in the parliament. The eleventh national parliamentary election was held on 30 December 2018.[9] The current speaker is Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, who is presiding over the eleventh Parliament. She is the first woman to have held this office.


Supreme Court of Bangladesh

The judicial system contains an apex Supreme Court, which is composed of the Appellate Division and the High Court Division. There are various levels of the judiciary in Bangladesh – different types of courts form a strict hierarchy of importance – District Courts, City Criminal Courts, Specialized Courts and Tribunals are all inferior to the Supreme Court. The chief justice of Bangladesh is the head of the judiciary and the Supreme Court. The present and the 22nd chief justice of Bangladesh is Syed Mahmud Hossain. He succeeded acting chief Justice Md. Abdul Wahhab Miah on 2 February 2018.[10]

Local government[edit]

There are 8 divisions and 64 districts in Bangladesh, each district further subdivided into upazila (lit. subdistricts). The area within each subdistrict, except for those in metropolitan areas, is divided into several unions, with each union consisting of multiple villages. Direct elections are held for each union (or ward), electing a chairperson and a number of members. In 1997, a parliamentary act was passed to reserve three seats (out of 12) in every union for female candidates. Following elections in the 2014–16 period, 25.2% (14,763/ 58,543) of councillors were women, up from 23.4% in the 2011–13 period.

Municipal Councils or Town Municipalities or Paurasabha or Municipality is an urban local body that administers a city of population 100,000 or more than. The members of the Paurasabha are elected representatives for a term of five years.

The cities with a city corporation, having mayoral elections, include Dhaka South, Dhaka North, Chittagong, Khulna, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Barisal, Rangpur, Comilla, Mymensingh and Gazipur.

Electoral systems[edit]

The first-past-the-post system is used for general elections to the Jatiya Sangsad, and also for all local government elections. The first-past-the-post system elects members to parliament through individual elections in each of the 300 constituencies in Bangladesh. To be elected to the Jatiya Sangsad candidates require the biggest share of votes. Each constituency can only elect one member to parliament, voters are given a ballot paper with a list of candidates of which they can select one. Fifteen seats exclusively reserved for women allocated using proportional representation by the elected members.

Political parties[edit]

The three major parties in Bangladesh are the Bangladesh Awami League AL, Bangladesh Nationalist Party BNP and Jatiya Party. Nationalist party finds its allies among some Islamist parties like Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh while the Awami League aligns itself traditionally with leftist and secularist parties such as Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal. Another important player is the Jatiya Party, headed by late Hussain Muhammad Ershad's Brother GM Quader. The Awami League-BNP rivalry has been bitter and punctuated by protests, violence and murder. Student politics is particularly strong in Bangladesh, a legacy from the liberation movement era. Almost all parties have highly active student wings, and students have been elected to the Parliament.

Three radical Islamist parties, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkatul Jihad were banned in February 2004 on grounds of militancy and terrorism.[11] Following the first series of bans, a series of bomb attacks took place in the country in August 2005. The evidence of staging these attacks by these extremist groups have been found in the investigation, and hundreds of suspected members were detained in numerous security operations in 2006, including the two chiefs of the JMB, Shaykh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, who were executed with other top leaders in March 2007, bringing the radical parties to an end.[12]

Political issues[edit]

Nepotism and dynastic politics[edit]

Popularly known as the "Battling Begums";[13] The two women have ruled Bangladesh as prime ministers at various times since 1991.[14][15]

Political dynasties are a common occurrence in East Asia, and have been prevalent in Bangladesh since it gained independence.[16] A political dynasty usually refers to a party or any political body run by a single family, with long-established economic or political dominance passed down or inherited.[17] The influence of political dynasties often spills over to the general public sphere.[18] The prevalence of this phenomenon has the potential to discourage civil society organizations from taking part in politics.[18]

There are several suggested explanations for the prevalence and success of dynastic politics.

  1. The name becomes synonymous with success and leadership, while connections and political capital remain in the family.
  2. Leaders who are connected in collective memory to momentous events are perceived as possessing positive characters such as courage and assertiveness, that can be passed onto the next generation.
  3. The above explanation can be applied to parties themselves - party members tend to support candidates that are related to previously successful ones, due to the perception of inherited traits.
  4. A tendency for traditionalism, especially in societies where family relations and kinship are central to the culture.
  5. Poorer constituencies tend to gravitate towards wealthier, more well-educated politicians, that represent leadership skills as they perceive them.[19]

Two main political dynasties have been known to rival each other former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, widow of former military ruler Ziaur Rahman, who has led the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) since 1981, and her son Tarique Rahman opposite the Bangladesh Awami League, led since 1981 by Sheikh Hasina, who is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[20] This political rivalry has existed since democracy was reinstated in Bangladesh in 1991 [21] [13] [14][15]

Some studies suggested a link between economic hardship and dynasty politics, not only in Bangladesh. It appears that this is a two-way, self perpetuating phenomenon.[22] In recent years, increased awareness of the adverse effects of this political system has caused some shift in public perception. [20] [23]


Bangladesh has seen political corruption for decades. According to all major ranking institutions, Bangladesh routinely finds itself among the most corrupt countries in the world.[24]

Caretaker government[edit]

Following the resignation of HM Ershad, Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was nominated as the Chief Advisor and observed the 1991 general election. A Caretaker government was put in place, allows the Chief Adviser the same power as a prime minister, except for defense matters. A Caretaker government was also put in place following the elections in 1996, 2001 and 2008. The original concept of a caretaker government was intended to ease the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, however, this system was institutionalized in 1996 by the Sixth Parliament due to rising mistrust between the BNP and Awami League. In 2011 the then ruling party Awami League abolished the caretaker government system. This has been the biggest cause of multiple disputes between the BNP and the Awami League since.[25]

Religion in politics[edit]

Map shows the districts (in red) where Bangladeshi Hindu community attacked by Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Constitution of Bangladesh establishes Islam as the state religion.[26] The state founding principle of secularism was subsequently replaced by a commitment to the Islamic way of life through a series of constitutional amendments and government proclamations between 1977 and 1988. During the eighties, the state was designated exclusively Islamic. In 1977, secularism was removed from the constitution by a Martial Law directive during the military dictatorship of Ziaur Rahman. In 1988, the Parliament of Bangladesh declared Islam as the state religion during the presidency of Hussain Muhammad Ershad.[27] After the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1990, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Awami League governments retained Islam as the state religion. In 2001 a series of post-election violent incidents were occurred following the 2001 Bangladeshi general election. The religious minority, the Hindus, were victims of targeted violence by supporters of Bangladesh Nationalist Party.[28][29] In 2010, the Bangladesh Supreme Court ruled that the removal of secularism in 1977 was illegal because it was done by an unconstitutional martial law regime. The court reinstated secularism in the constitution. The principle of secularity now co-exists with the state religion.[30][31] The Government generally respects this provision in practice; however, some members of the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, and Ahmadiyya communities experience discrimination. The Government (2001–2006), led by an alliance of four parties (Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote and Bangladesh Jatiyo Party) banned the Ahmadiyya literature by an executive order. Family laws concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption differ depending on the religion of the person involved.

In 2022, Freedom House rated Bangladesh’s religious freedom as 2 out of 4.[32]

Voting freedom in the Parliament[edit]

Article 70 of the Constitution of Bangladesh is a controversial clause restricting voting freedom in the Parliament of Bangladesh, written in the country's constitution. The article has the effect of preventing free votes and crossing the floor by Members of Parliament. If MPs vote against their party, they automatically lose their seats. As a result of Article 70, Bangladesh's parliament has largely served as a rubber stamp for actions taken by the ruling party or coalition. Critics argue Article 70 contradicts fundamental rights in the constitution, including freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.[33]

The parliament has also not been able to hold a no confidence vote to remove a prime minister. The lack of accountability in parliament gives unchecked powers to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who is often accused of dictatorship.[34][35]

Social issues[edit]

Social issues in Bangladesh range from liberal inceptions such as women's rights, religious liberty, religious freedom, modernity, industrialization to religious issues such as blasphemy laws, sharia legal system, religious conservatism and state religion. The two main parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League, both have contested against each other since the millennium over these issues.


Background and independence movement[edit]

After the British conquest of Bengal on 23 June 1757 and the overthrowing and execution of Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, considered as the last independent ruler of the region before regaining independence 200 years later, the Bengal Presidency was divided in British India in the year 1947, as East Bengal and West Bengal mainly on religious grounds. East Bengal allied itself with the newly formed Muslim state of Pakistan and became known as East Pakistan. However the relations between West Pakistan and East Pakistan were politically strained due to various issues of inequality, language, culture and a large distance of over 2000 kilometres between the two states separated by the foreign lands of India. The central power remained confined in West Pakistan, thus demand for total independent rule of East Pakistan begun. Following the Six point movement in 1966 led by Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the East Pakistan independence movement gained momentum.[36][37]

On 5 December 1969 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stated after independence East Pakistan will be renamed Bangladesh.[38] The situation escalated after the 1970 elections and the 7 March 1971 speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. After a brutal Pakistani army crackdown on the local people of Bangladesh on 25 March 1971 carried out under orders of Pakistan President Yahya Khan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Chief of Awami League and the leader of the liberation movement declared independence on 26 March 1971, which was broadcast from Chittagong radio station on 27 March, first by the then Awami League Secretary of Chittagong Mr Abdul Hannan and other Awami League leaders and then by Major Ziaur Rahman on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the evening of 27 March, thus starting the Bangladesh Liberation War. Captain Rafiq BU Commanding Officer of Chittagong East Pakistan Rifles revolted first and subsequently other commanding officers at different places: Major Shafiullah, Major Khaled Musharraf and Major Ziaur Rahman revolted with their forces. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested by the Pakistan Army in early hours of 26 March, immediately after he declared independence and was taken to West Pakistan, where he remained in jail until early January 1972.

Sculpture of Cabinet members of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh; popularly known as Mujibnagar Government

Bangladesh's first government formed on 10 April 1971 and took the oath of office in Meherpur, Kushtia on 17 April 1971. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was elected as the first President of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh, Syed Nazrul Islam was elected as the Vice President, and Tajuddin Ahmed was elected as the first Prime Minister. Other major cabinet members were Mr Kamruzzaman, Mr Monsur Ali and Khodokar Mustaq Ahmed, all senior Awami League leaders. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by virtue of his position as the President of Bangladesh became the Supreme Commander of the Liberation Army, while Colonel M.A.G. Osmani was appointed by the provisional government as the Commander-in- Chief of the liberation army. Subsequently, the provisional government formed its secretariat and designated top bureaucrats as chiefs of the divisions of the Secretariat. The Provisional Government later divided Bangladesh into eleven Sectors for conducting war efficiently and in an organized manner. This Government became the first legal political entity on behalf of the fighting people of Bangladesh and represented the people in the international arena. Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed started intergovernmental dialogue with the Indian Government immediately after the formation of the Provisional Government. Bangladesh achieved victory in the liberation war on 16 December 1971.

As this government was formed during the war of independence from Pakistan, its significance holds a distinction. Its temporary headquarters had been set up at 8 Theatre Road in Calcutta, India.[39]

1972–1975: First parliamentary era[edit]

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with U.S. President Gerald Ford in 1974

On 8 January 1972 the leader of the Liberation War and Liberation movement Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from Pakistan Jail and was sent to London. On Mujib's arrival in London, he was met by the Prime Minister of UK and other world leaders. Sheikh Mujib returned to Bangladesh on 10 January 1972, by a British Royal Air Force Aircraft. Mujib congratulated the Bengali Mukti Bahini (the Bangladesh Liberation Force) for succeeding in the war of liberation against Pakistan army. Mujib was placed at the helm of government, according to the election victory under the unified Pakistan government. In 1973 after the first Bangladesh elections, he continued his term in office with immense backing from India, and public popularity, but had great difficulty transforming this popular support into the political strength needed to function as head of government. The new constitution, which came into force on 16 December 1972, created a strong executive prime minister, a largely ceremonial presidency, an independent judiciary, and a unicameral legislature on a modified Westminster model. The 1972 constitution adopted as state policy the Awami League's (AL) four basic principles of nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy. A key author of the constitution of Bangladesh was Dr Kamal Hossain, who has since been a major political figure of the country.

The first parliamentary elections held under the 1972 constitution were in March 1973, with the Awami League winning a massive majority, winning a historic 293 out of a total of 300 seats. No other political party in Bangladesh's early years was able to duplicate or challenge the League's broad-based appeal, membership, or organizational strength. Mujib and his cabinet having no experience in governance nor administration, relied heavily on experienced civil servants and political factions of the Awami League, the new Bangladesh Government focused on relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of the economy and society. Mujib nationalised the entire economy, banking and industrial sector. Economic conditions took a serious downturn. On top of that heavy corruption among his own party members, factions and senior leadership also added to the devastation and famine. The then U.S. Secretary of State had termed Bangladesh a Bottomless Basket. Amid mass corruption and famine throughout 1974, in December 1974, Mujib decided that continuing economic deterioration and mounting civil disorder required strong measures. After proclaiming a state of emergency, Mujib used his parliamentary majority to win a constitutional amendment limiting the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, establishing an executive presidency, and instituting a one-party system, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), which all members of Parliament were obliged to join.

On 15 August 1975, Mujib, and most of his family, were assassinated by a small group of mid-level army officers. Mujib's daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, happened to be out of the country. A new government, headed by former Mujib associate Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad, was formed.

1975–1991: Military rule[edit]

Mujib's senior cabinet minister Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad formed a new government and immediately initiated a few critical changes in Mujib's policies and rules of business in government. The notorious Jail Killings happened during this period, amidst the confusion in which Bangladesh was plunged on 3 November. On the same day, Brig General Khaled Mosharraf launched his own coup fundamentally as a move to restore the chain of command broken in the army Musharraf moved swiftly to remove Moshtaque Ahmad from office. On 7 November Khaled Musharaf was killed in a counter coup engineered by Colonel Abu Taher.[40]

Following Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad's removal and assassination of Brigadier General Khaled Musharaf by a segment of army personnel in 1975, arrested deputy Army Chief of Staff Major General Ziaur Rahman ("Zia") managed to take the lead. He pledged full support to the civilian government headed by President Chief Justice Sayem. Acting at Zia's behest, Sayem dissolved Parliament, and instituted state of emergency under martial law. Acting behind the scenes of the Martial Law Administration (MLA), Zia sought to invigorate government policy and administration. In November 1976, Zia became Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and assumed the presidency upon Sayem's retirement 5 months later, on 21 April 1977.

In May 1981, Zia was assassinated in Chittagong by dissident elements of the military. There was no coup or uprising attempted, and the major conspirators were never taken into custody or killed. In accordance with the constitution, Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar was sworn in as acting president. He immediately set out to continue Zia's policies and called for fresh elections. Due to President Zia's tremendous popularity Satter won as the BNP's candidate. President Sattar sought to follow the policies of his predecessor and retained essentially the same cabinet.

Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hussain Mohammed Ershad assumed power in the a full-fledged but bloodless coup on 24 March 1982. He removed the country's democratically elected president and suspended the constitution and declared martial law. He cited pervasive corruption, ineffectual government, and economic mismanagement for legitimising his action. The following year, Ershad assumed the presidency on 11 December 1983, retaining his positions as army chief and CMLA, first time in Bangladesh. During most of 1984, Ershad sought the opposition parties' participation in local elections under martial law. The opposition's refusal to participate, however, forced Ershad to abandon these plans. Ershad was capable of managing the Awami League through financial and political support. The Awami League's support gave him the strength and legitimacy to seek public support for his regime in a national referendum on his leadership in March 1985. He won overwhelmingly, although turnout was small. Two months later, Ershad held elections for local council chairmen. Additional support from Jamaati Islami at the same time gave Ershad's political vehicle for the transition from martial law some form of legitimacy and the political order of Ershad and his Jatiya Party was established.

Despite a boycott by the BNP, led Begum Khaleda Zia, parliamentary elections were held on schedule on 7 May 1986. The Jatiya Party won a modest majority of the 300 elected seats in the national assembly. The participation of the Awami League led by party chairman Sheikh Hasina Wazed—lent the elections some credibility, despite widespread charges of voting irregularities and ballot box theft.

Ershad resigned as Army Chief of Staff and retired from military service in preparation for the presidential elections, scheduled for October 1986. Protesting that martial law was still in effect, both the BNP refused to put up opposing candidates. The Awami League participated by breaking their open public promise. Ershad easily outdistanced the remaining candidates, taking 84% of the vote. Although Ershad's government claimed a turnout of more than 50%, opposition leaders of BNP, and much of the foreign press, estimated a far lower percentage and alleged voting irregularities.

Ershad continued his stated commitment to lift martial law. In November 1986, his government mustered the necessary two-thirds majority in the national assembly to amend the constitution and confirm the previous actions of the martial law regime. The President then lifted martial law, and the opposition party Awami League of Hasina Wazed took their elected seats in the national assembly.

1990 Mass Uprising in Bangladesh, lead by Sheikh Hasina

In July 1987, however, after the government hastily pushed through a controversial legislative bill to include military representation on local administrative councils. Passage of the bill helped spark an opposition movement by Bangladesh Nationalist Party that quickly gathered momentum. The Awami League and Jamaat Islami. understanding their political gamble, gradually united with Bangladesh Nationalist Party for the first time. The government began to arrest scores of opposition activists under the country's Special Powers Act of 1974. Despite these arrests, opposition parties continued to organize protest marches and nationwide strikes. After declaring a state of emergency, Ershad dissolved Parliament and scheduled fresh elections for March 1988.

All major opposition parties refused government overtures to participate in these polls, maintaining that the government was illegal and incapable of holding free and fair elections. Despite the opposition boycott, the government proceeded. The ruling Jatiya Party won 251 of the 300 seats. The Parliament, while still regarded by the opposition as an illegitimate body, held its sessions as scheduled, and passed numerous bills.

By 1989, the domestic political situation in the country seemed to have quieted. The local council elections were generally considered by international observers to have been less violent and more free and fair than previous elections. However, opposition to Ershad's rule began to regain momentum, escalating by the end of 1990 in frequent general strikes, increased student's campus protests, public rallies, and a general disintegration of law and order. This was popularly termed the 1990 Mass Uprising in Bangladesh.

On 6 December 1990, after 2 months of widespread civil unrest, Ershad offered his resignation. On 27 February 1991, an interim government oversaw what most observers widely believed to be the nation's most free and fair elections to date.

1991-2007: Transition to Democracy[edit]

The center-right BNP won a plurality of seats in the 1991 Bangladesh General Election and formed a coalition government with the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, with Khaleda Zia, widow of Ziaur Rahman, obtaining the post of Prime Minister. Only four parties had more than 10 members elected to the 1991 Parliament: The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia; the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina; the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), led by Golam Azam; and the Jatiya Party (JP), led by acting chairman Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury while its founder, former President Ershad, served out a prison sentence on corruption charges. The electorate approved still more changes to the constitution, formally re-creating a parliamentary system and returning governing power to the office of the prime minister, as in Bangladesh's original 1972 constitution. In October 1991, members of Parliament elected a new head of state, President Abdur Rahman Biswas.

In March 1994, controversy over a parliamentary by-election, which the opposition claimed the government had rigged, led to an indefinite boycott of Parliament by the entire opposition. The opposition also began a program of repeated general strikes to press its demand that Khaleda Zia's government resign and a caretaker government supervise a general election. Efforts to mediate the dispute, under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat, failed. After another attempt at a negotiated settlement failed narrowly in late December 1994, the opposition resigned en masse from Parliament. The opposition then continued a campaign of Marches, demonstrations, and strikes in an effort to force the government to resign. The year 1995 observed nearly 200 days of general strikes disrupting the countries normal activities. The opposition, including the Awami League's Sheikh Hasina, pledged to boycott national elections scheduled for 15 February 1996.

In February, Khaleda Zia was re-elected for the second term by a landslide in voting boycotted and denounced as unfair by the three main opposition parties. In March 1996, following escalating political turmoil, the sitting Parliament enacted a constitutional amendment to allow a neutral caretaker government to assume power conduct new parliamentary elections; former Chief Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman was named Chief Advisor (a position equivalent to prime minister) in the interim government. New parliamentary elections were held in June 1996 and were won by the Awami League; party leader Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inspects the ceremonial honour guard during a full honour arrival ceremony at the Pentagon on 17 October 2000.

Sheikh Hasina formed what she called a "Government of National Consensus" in June 1996, which included one minister from the Jatiya Party and another from the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, a very small leftist party. The Jatiya Party never entered into a formal coalition arrangement, and party president H.M. Ershad withdrew his support from the government in September 1997. Only three parties had more than 10 members elected to the 1996 Parliament: The Awami League, BNP, and Jatiya Party. Jatiya Party president, Ershad, was released from prison on bail in January 1997.

BNP staged a walkout from parliament in August 1997. The BNP returned to Parliament under another agreement in March 1998. In June 1999, the BNP and other opposition parties again began to abstain from attending Parliament. Opposition parties have staged an increasing number of nationwide general strikes, rising from 6 days of general strikes in 1997 to 27 days in 1999. A four-party opposition alliance formed at the beginning of 1999 announced that it would boycott parliamentary by-elections and local government elections unless the government took steps demanded by the opposition to ensure electoral fairness. The government did not take these steps, and the opposition has subsequently boycotted all elections, including municipal council elections in February 1999, several parliamentary by-elections, and the Chittagong city corporation elections in January 2000. The opposition demands that the Awami League government step down immediately to make way for a caretaker government to preside over parliamentary and local government. In March 2000, US President Bill Clinton became the first US president to visit Bangladesh.[41] Hasina later stated that during the visit Clinton wanted to import gas from the Country, but she had to decline due to fear of scarcity of gas and for the welfare of the people as they were heavily dependent on gas.[42]

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia with the President of Brazil, Lula da Silva (2004)

A Khaleda-led four-party alliance won two-thirds of total parliamentary seats with a total 193 seats, while Awami League won 62 seats. Thus Khaleda Zia won a second term as Prime Minister in 2001. Her coalition included several Islamist parties. The Awami League walked out from the Parliament in June 2003 to protest derogatory remarks about Sheikh Hasina by a State Minister and the allegedly partisan role of the Parliamentary Speaker. Throughout the year 2004 the opposition party Awami League carried out various processions pressing various demands and claiming government incompetence on various issues. In June 2004, the Awami League returned to Parliament without having any of their demands met.

On 21 August 2004 a group of terrorists conducted vicious grenade attacks on a rally held by the opposition party Awami League including leader Sheikh Hasina. Prominent leaders including Ivy Rahman were killed in the attack, and Hasina herself sustained injuries to her ears. A total of 13 grenades were blasted and 24 people killed. The Awami League called for a nationwide hartal (general strikes) on 23 and 24 August 2004 following the incident. Begum Khaleda Zia, then Prime Minister of Bangladesh condemned the attacks, and also vowed a strong probe to catch the culprits. But they provided misleading information. Only after the current government tenure ended a neutral probe formed and revealed that Tarique Rahman son of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia along with the then Home Minister Lutfuzzaman Babar had masterminded the attack.[43] But BNP has denied the allegations.

In 2005 Awami League attended Parliament irregularly before announcing a boycott of the entire June 2005 budget session.[44] The BNP government tenure expired in October 2006, and was followed by a period of widespread political crisis.

2006–2008: Caretaker government[edit]

Hamid Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, and Fakhruddin Ahmed at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

Following the end of Khaleda Zia's government in late October 2006, there were protests and strikes over uncertainty about who would head the caretaker government (which was accused of BNP bias), held by Awami League, paralyzing the country and resulting in the death of at least 40 people in the following month in November 2006.[45] An election was scheduled for the beginning of 2007, however it did not take place. Given the parties' failure to agree on a candidate For Chief Advisor, according to the constitution the position devolved to the President, Iajuddin Ahmed, serving since 2002. He took it on in addition to his regular responsibilities, which under the caretaker government included the Defense Ministry. Iajuddin Ahmed formed a government, appointing ten advisors to a council to act as ministers. He appointed his press spokesman, the journalist-editor turned politician M Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury, as his chief Presidential Advisor, with the status of Minister of State. Chowdhury had the responsibility to negotiate with the political parties to bring them to participation in the election.[46] In January 2007, Iajuddin Ahmed stepped down as the head of the caretaker government, under pressure from the military.[47] Fakhruddin Ahmed, former World Bank economist, was selected to replace him and with the commitment to rooting out corruption and preparing a better voter list. Fakhruddin Ahmed became the Chief Advisor. A State of Emergency was declared and a massive campaign to crack down on corruption was undertaken. By July 2007 some 200,000 people had been arrested under corruption charges. The government said it would hold elections before the end of 2008.

In April 2007, Ahmed's military backed administration attempted to reform the political parties by exiling Hasina and Zia, but this was never enforced. Hasina, who had been visiting her children in the US, was allowed to return but she had to face serious charges, including involvement in the assassination of four political rivals. In July, she was arrested after two businessmen testified that she had extorted 80 million (US$1.16 million) from them.[48] This provoked angry protests from her supporters; even her bitter rival Khaleda Zia, as well as six British MPs and MEPs, called for her release.[49] Khaleda herself faced charges of tax evasion and was later arrested. Tarique Rahman was taken to custody for the 2004 grenade attacks and various corruption charges including money laundering, and was later sent on forced exile on 11 September 2008 and since then has not been able to return to the country.[50] After holding power for almost two years, the political situation had finally calmed and Ahmed decided to return parliamentary democracy, testing the political situation with some local elections held on 4 August 2008, which were peaceful.[51] Both Hasina and Khaleda were finally released from prison and the General elections were held on 29 December 2008. The Awami League and its Grand Alliance won the elections with two-thirds of the seats in parliament. The BNP and its four-party alliance, including Jamaat-e-Islami, comprised the major opposition.

2009 – present: Restoration and present parliamentary era[edit]

Sheikh Hasina with Vladimir Putin in Moscow

The Awami League came to power by winning the vast majority of parliament seats in the election held on 29 December 2008, and Sheikh Hasina became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for the second time. Her cabinet took oath on 6 January 2009. HM Ershad was promised to be made President in exchange for support for Awami League, but despite supporting Awami League, this promise was not fulfilled and Zillur Rahman became president. The first two years under this government was peaceful, but a debatable issue took place when the Awami League government enforced an existing law to reclaim the house where Khaleda Zia had lived for nearly 40 years for a nominal cost. Khaleda Zia moved to the house of her brother Sayeed Iskandar at Gulshan. In protest BNP would abstain from parliament. This period also observed tremendous economic growth.

Controversy erupted in 2011 after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared the abolition of the care-taker government system, contradicting her own motives and views in the mid-1990s when she had demanded that elections should be held under neutral care-taker governments. Hasina justified this by stating that a neutral care-taker government may abuse its power (referring to the care-taker government crisis in 2006–2008) and take unlawful and autocratic control of the country. At the same time, arrests and trials of members accused of war crimes of the political party Jamaat-e-Islami had begun. This caused major disagreements among the ruling Awami League with the chief opposition party BNP and its major ally Jamaat. In a bid to return to the 1972 Constitution, the government made several reforms to the constitution of Bangladesh in 2011, and readopted Secularism. In 2012 a coup attempt against Hasina by mid-ranking army officers was stopped, with Bangladesh army being tipped off by Indian intelligence agency. Also in 2012, Bangladesh won a legal battle against Myanmar under international court regarding disputed sea territories, giving Bangladesh a tremendous advantage on the oceanic areas.[52]

The period 2012–2014 was marked by widespread political unrest and violence in the form of strikes, riots and acts of vandalism which led to massive property damages, economic losses and death of many ordinary citizens. Petrol bombs and cocktails were being used at their peaks for arson attacks. But the ruling party remained committed to their decision and compared the ongoing protests to acts of terrorism. Both the ruling party and the opposition received International criticism.[53] The scheduled date of the 10th general election was 5 January 2014. The opposition party received several pleas by the ruling party to abandon their path of violence and join the election, but they repeatedly declined. Despite the crisis the controversial 5 January 2014 election was held (a few election centers were bombed by BNP-Jamaat supporters, voters faced harassment) with mass boycott from BNP and its major allies. At least 21 people were killed on the 5 January election day violence.[54] Awami League had a landslide victory, and Sheikh Hasina was sworn in as Prime Minister for the third time on 9 January 2014, while Rowshan Ershad of the Jatiya Party became the new leader of the opposition, as Khaleda-led BNP boycotted the election. The ongoing BNP-Jamaat protests diluted after failing to stop the January 2014 election, and overthrow the ruling party, and by the end of March 2014, political stability was reached.

In the tenth general election, Sheikh Hasina won a controversial one-sided walkover election after her main rival Khaleda Zia and all other opposition parties boycotted the polls. Awami League once again took office on 9 January 2014. Over a 100 people were killed in the 2016 Union Parishad Election in violent clashes between Awami League and BNP supporters.[55] In April 2017 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a landmark visit to neighboring India and signed 22 new deals and MoUs with India taking the Indo-BD bilateral relationships to a new height. This also included a defense cooperation, originally proposed by India.[56] BNP harshly criticized the move with Khaleda alleging the ruling party was selling Bangladesh to India and pointing the Government's failure to make the long-awaited Teesta deal. Awami League dismissed the allegations, assuring that it was just a framework to strengthen regional ties with India. Also in 2017 Bangladesh was met with the 2017 Rohingya Refugee Crisis, in which the government received international praise for allowing over 700,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar (where around 20,000 of them were killed) into the country but also some domestic criticisms due to this being an additional burden to Bangladesh a country already overpopulated with 17 crore (170 million) people and having a small land.[57]

Most of the post 2014 election period however saw political calm. Tensions between the BNP and Awami League reignited in 2018 after BNP once again started pressing demands for a caretaker government to observe the 11th general election. BNP also criticized Awami League's rising dependency on law enforcement agencies such as the police force and for holding back people's freedom of speech.[58] On 8 February 2018 Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman as per court verdict, were jailed for 5 and 10 years respectively due to their involvement in the Zia Charitable Trust corruption case. While Tarique was on exile, Khaleda would be imprisoned on old Dhaka Central Jail located in Nazimuddin Road. BNP totally rejected the verdict, alleging that it was Awami League's conspiracy to destroy their party and to keep them out of the next general election. In protest BNP held nationwide demonstrations, which were foiled by the well prepared police force across the nation, with a large number of BNP members also being arrested during clashes with the police.[59] After Khaleda Zia was jailed, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and prominent leader Moudud Ahmed oversaw most of the party's activities. After Khalada Zia's prison sentence was challenged at the High Court, it was increased to 10 years, potentially ending her political career.[60] During this time the government passed the controversial "Digital Security Act 2018", under which any criticisms of the government over the internet or any other media, would be met with various degrees of prison terms.[61]

Hasina with G7 Leaders and guests, Shima Kanko Hotel in Japan, 2016

On 22 September 2018, in a massive rally, the newly formed coalition party: Jatiya Oikya Prokriya (JOP), a platform led by Dr. Kamal Hossain and Prof. Badruddoza Chowdhury, allied themselves with the main opposition party BNP, on condition BNP will no longer be alliance with Jamaat, and vowed joint movements to restore democracy. The BNP-JOP alliance was named the Jatiya Oikya Front.[62][63] The Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader called the opposing Jatiya Oikya Front, weak and stated that the opposing alliance was not being viewed as a credible threat by the Government.[64][65] On 10 October 2018, court verdict against the 2004 grenade attack was given. Top BNP leader Lutfuzzaman Babar was given the death penalty and Tariqe Rahman was given life term imprisonment. BNP rejected the verdict and carried out protests against it.[66] During this time Kamal Hossain as the leader of the Jatiya Oikya Front became the main opposition leader.[67]

The 2018 Bangladeshi general election was held on 30 December 2018. On the election day at least 14 people died in violence between the Awami League supporters and the Jatiya Oikya Front supporters.[68] The Awami League returned to power winning 259 out of 300 parliamentary seats, making up the largest government body in Bangladesh after 1973 (where Awami League had won 293 out of 300 seats). The Jatiya Oikya Front only won 7 seats and alleged the 2018 election to be rigged and opted to boycott the parliament and stated that they would demand for fresh elections. The Jatiya Party became the main opposition party with only 20 seats. This was Awami League's record 4th victory in the general elections under Sheikh Hasina.[69]

Bangladesh Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina's new cabinet took oath on 3 January 2019.[70][71] Despite refusing to sell gas (LPG) at a better deal to the US back in 2000, in October 2019 Sheikh Hasina in a contradictory statement controversially stated that she will sell LPG to India despite the scarcity of LPG in Bangladesh (BD). Hasina also stated she will give India free access to extract BD's Feni water, despite her failure to secure the Teesta river sharing deal.[72][73] The dispute between BD and Myanmar over the unresolved Rohingya Refugee Crisis continued during this period, with Myanmar's unwillingness to take back the refugees.[74] In October 2020 Myanmar deployed their army troops on the Bangladesh border. Bangladesh appealed to the UN Security Council to prevent any escalation. Later Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assured "a safe zone must be created for the Rohingyas Refugees. If that is done, Myanmar will face a huge problem in the Rakhine region. I don't think Myanmar will lock in war with Bangladesh; China will not let that happen." No further escalations have been reported, BD and Myanmar have since remained in peace militarily, but the diplomatic dispute continues to be debated at the UN.[75][76][77]

Sheikh Hasina in Since the 2018 General Election the nation witnessed four years of political calm. But in 2022 BNP increasingly started to criticize the Awami League Government over rising inflationary crisis, mostly unsustainable fuel and energy price hikes as well as massive power outage despite the Government's promise to implement 100% electricity in the nation. While price levels of every items begun to rise, people's income level became stale and the Prime Minister herself warned of possible famine in the future and called for the general public to reduce their consumption, however did not say anything about politicians and government officials living luxurious lives.[78] This cumulated to BNP staging massive protest on 24 December 2022, during clashes with the police one BNP activist was killed.[79] Despite these criticisms the Awami League achieved numerous economic development in the nation, including the opening of the Padma Bridge and the Dhaka Metro Rail on 25 June 2022 and 28 December 2022 respectively.[80]

Smart Bangladesh Vision 2041, a campaign launched by the Government of Bangladesh on February 2023 ahead of upcoming parliament election.[81][82][83]

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External links[edit]