For a country widely perceived as one of the world's most corrupt, the most dramatic aspect of Ahmed's rule is his antigraft campaign against the establishment. So far, more than 160 senior politicians, top civil servants and security officials have been arrested on suspicion of graft and other economic crimes. The roundup has netted former ministers from the two main political parties and, most recently, even Zia's own son Tareque Rahman. Last week Rahman, 40, appeared in court to face a charge (which he denies) that he extorted $147,000 from the owner of a Dhaka construction firm. The government has also frozen hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts belonging to politicians—money it suspects was illegally obtained.
Bangladeshis have followed the anticorruption drive with a mixture of surprise and glee. Newspaper polls suggest that a clear majority of Bangladeshis support the present government even though it is unelected, has banned all political activity, and has yet to announce a date for fresh elections. On Tuesday, in his first extensive interview since coming to power, Ahmed spoke with TIME's Simon Robinson in a meeting room next door to Zia's old office. Excerpts:
TIME: Why impose emergency rule instead of holding fresh elections?
What's your role?
Some people see the establishment of your government as a military coup by stealth.
Why launch an anticorruption campaign?
You've gone after some big fish.
Could either of the two main parties have gone after corruption as you have?
If you stay in power long enough, you may become part of that patronage system.
How long do you intend to stay in power?
Those reforms could take years.
Bangladesh's recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus says he will form a political party.
Do you worry about a backlash from the political parties?
Are you scared for your safety?
What do you do to relax?