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Bangladesh - background

Who is Sheikh Hasina?

Article published on the 2008-12-30 Latest update 2008-12-30 13:19 TU

Sheikh Hasina Wajed(Photo: Reuters)

Sheikh Hasina Wajed
(Photo: Reuters)

The Awami League has won Bangladesh's first election since 2001 by a landslide. Its leader, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, is the daughter of the country's founder and has been involved in a long political duel with another "battling Begum", Khaleda Zia of the right-wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Now she is set to become Prime Minister for the second time. Who is Khaleda Zia?

Khaleda Zia was born in 1947, the eldest of five children.

She married nuclear scientist MA Wajed Miah in 1968. They have two children, both of whom live in the US.

Her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was one of the leaders of the Awami League in East Pakistan, the territory which broke away to become Bangladesh after a war of independence in 1971.

He led a national government until 1975, when he declared a state of emergency, banned all other parties and declared himself President.

Later that year Sheikh Mujib was assassinated in a military coup, along with his wife and three sons. Sheikh Hasina and her sister, Sheikh Rehana, escaped murder because they were in West Germany. She later moved to the UK and then to India.

After being elected president of the Awami League, Hasina returned to Bangladesh in 1981, the year in which President Ziaur Rahman of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was assassinated and another military ruler, General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, seized power.

In 1990 Sheikh Hasina joined forces with Ziaur Rahman's widow, Khaleda Zia, to topple Ershad. The BNP won the following election in 1991, leaving the Awami League the largest opposition party.

In 1994, after a by-election which the Awami League claimed was rigged, the party launched a campaign of civil disobedience and strikes, its MPs losing their seats in parliament after a months-long boycott.

An election was held, under a caretaker government, in 1996 and the party was able to form a coalition government with Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister.

Despite accusations of corruption and pro-India bias, she became the first Bangladeshi Prime Minister to serve the full term.

After another caretaker government, elections were held in 2001 and were a landslide victory for a four-party alliance led by the BNP.  

In 2003 the Awami League launched another anti-government campaign but failed to topple the government within a year, as its leaders had predicted.

In 2004 Hasina survived an attempt on her life at a political rally. More than 20 people died in the attack when her car was raked with bullets.

Corruption, political violence and a threatened Awami League boycott, led to the cancellation of elections planned for 2007.  The military declared a state of emergency and imposed a caretaker government.

Police launched a series of corruption investigations against Sheikh Hasina and later filed murder charges over allegations that she was behind the beating to death of supporters of a rival political party.

The government banned Hasina, who was in the US at the time, from returning to the country, while Khaleda Zia, who also faced corruption charges, went into exile.

After spending 51 days in the US and the UK, Hasina returned to be arrested in July.

In June 2008 she was released on parole and allowed to go the US for medical treatment, returning in November to lead her party in the general election scheduled for December.

During the campaign, both leaders promised to tackle corruption and poverty. Hasina addressed the crowds from behind bullet-proof glass after reports that Islamists planned to assassinate her.

Under her leadership, the Awami League has moved away from its advocacy of state intervention in a mixed economy but Sheikh Hasina takes office again during a world economic crisis which has seen several governments water down their exclusively free-market policies.