With the conviction of Khaleda, the politics of Bangladesh is going to take a new shape. The BNP believes Khaleda’s conviction and sentencing is temporary and she will get bail from the higher court. What decision may come from the higher court regarding this case will not be the end; she has 20 more cases to face within a short period, writes Swadesh Roy for South Asia Monitor
By Swadesh Roy
Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, was sentenced on February 8 to five years in jail. She is currently lodged in the old central jail in Dhaka after being found guilty by a court in a corruption case. Her son Tarique Rahman, previously convicted in a money- laundering case and currently living in exile in London, was also convicted and given 10 years imprisonment in the same case.
Corruption is among the major and chronic problems in Bangladesh, by which the country loses at least one percent of its GDP every year. The former military ruler, Ziaur Rahman, husband of Khaleda and father of Tarique Rahman, introduced corruption in the state for the first time.
Khaleda enjoyed two terms as Prime Minister. During her second term, from 2001-2006, Khaleda, along with her two sons, established a kleptocracy in the country. Kamal Siddique, one of her principal secretaries, said in a newspaper interview that during Khaleda’s second term, the government could not produce any electricity because of the commission money needed to be given to Tarique. No company showed interest in establishing an electricity plant in Bangladesh because Tarique’s illicit commission rate was so high, it would have made their production cost unviable.
However, Khaleda and Tarique are now both convicted and the former is in jail, while Tarique has been living in exile for 10 years. In the politics of Bangladesh, Khaleda is not only chairperson of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), she is also the leader of the 20- party Muslim fundamentalist alliance. In her absence, her Muslim fundamentalist allies have not chosen a new leader, but BNP has chosen their leader by naming Tarique as the acting chairperson of their party.
Tarique has been living in exile, in London, since 2007. An exiled person can be the acting president of any political party but, according to the law of the Election Commission (EC) of Bangladesh, it is not possible to make a convicted person a party chief or even a member of any political party.
BNP members can say that Tarique will go in appeal to the higher court. But in the other case of money laundering, Tarique was sentenced to jail for seven years, but he did not appeal against his conviction in a higher court, and the period for filling the appeal is long over. So he is a convicted felon. In this situation, if they continue with Tarique as their party chief, the EC can cancel the BNP’s registration.
With the conviction of Khaleda, the politics of Bangladesh is going to take a new shape. The BNP believes Khaleda’s conviction and sentencing is temporary and she will get bail from the higher court. What decision may come from the higher court regarding this case will not be the end; she has 20 more cases to face within a short period. Another verdict in a corruption case is due in March. Besides, according to the latest judgement of the appellate division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court, as a convicted person, she will lose her constitutional right to participate in the next election.
With the conviction of Khaleda, the Muslim fundamentalist alliance has in a difficult situation in Bangladeshi politics. This is a new turn for modern politics in Bangladesh.
Under no circumstances does fundamentalist politics go with the spirit of the creation of Bangladesh. The country was born as a modern and secular state through a bloody birth, but the notorious military ruler and founder of the BNP -Ziaur Rahman - made Bangladesh a mini Pakistan.
After coming to power with an overwhelming majority, Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the nation of Bangladesh, has been trying to reshape the politics of Bangladesh. In the last nine years of her tenure as prime minister, Bangladesh has got justice through a judgement in the case of the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and the execution of the killers. Similarly, the war criminals (who were not only war criminals but also the main pillars of Islamic fundamentalist politics in Bangladesh) were sent to the gallows and executed.
Now, after four decades, the people of Bangladesh are again seeing a ray of light of a modern politics through the conviction of Khaleda. The alliance of fundamentalist parties is in a bad shape today and eventually they will be vanquished. It is a new epoch for Bangladesh.
(The author is the award-winning Executive Editor of The Daily Janakantha, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at email@example.com)