Tajuddin Ahmed, April 1971- January 1972
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: 1972-75
Awami League won massive majority victory in the first Parliamentary elections held in March 1973 under the 1972 Constitution. In December 1974, impecunious Sk. Mujib government realized that continuing economic deterioration and mounting civil disorder required strong measures. After proclaiming a "State of Emergency", he used his parliamentary majority to win a "Constitutional Amendment" limiting the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, establishing an executive presidency, instituted a one-party system (BAKSAL) that required all civilian government personnel to join the party. The fundamental rights enumerated in the Constitution ceased to be observed and Bangladesh, in its infancy was transformed into a personal dictatorship. Mujib had an unfailing attachment to those who participated in the struggle for independence. He showed favoritism toward those comrades by giving them appointments to the civil government and also in the military. Despite substantial foreign aid, mostly from India and the Soviet Union, food supplies were scarce and there was rampant corruptions and black marketeering. Sk. Mujib then launched a mass drive against hoarders and smugglers backed by the "Rakkhi Bahini. These actions temporarily ameliorated the legitimate economy of the country but corruptions in high Government offices continued and became the hallmarks of Sk. Mujib administration. His economic policies also directly contributed to the country's economic chaos. Mujib's large-scale nationalization of Bangladeshi manufacturing, trading enterprises and international trading in commodities strangled Bangladesh entrepreneurship into its infancy.
On the early morning of August 15, 1975, Sk. Mujib and several members of his family were brutally murdered in a coup orchestrated by a group of young and disgruntle army officers. Some of the officers in the plot had a personal vendetta against Sk. Mujib. His popularity had fallen precipitously by the time of his assassination and his death was lamented surprisingly by few. His daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were out of the country. A new government headed by Mujib's close associate Khandakar Moshtaque Ahmed was formed.
Ziaur Rahman, 1975-81
Keeping his promise to hold elections, Zia won a 5-year term in June 1978 election with 76% of the vote. In November 1978, his government removed the remaining restrictions on political party activities in time for parliamentary elections in February 1979. The AL and BNP, founded by Zia emerged as the two major parties.
In May 1981, Zia was assassinated in Chittagong circuit house by dissident elements of the military. The attempted coup did not spread beyond Chittagong and the major conspirators were either taken into custody or killed. In accordance with the Constitution, Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar was sworn in as acting president. He declared a new national emergency and called for an election of a new president within 6 months. Sattar won the election as the BNP candidate, was a complaisance of his predecessor and retained essentially the same cabinet but the army stepped in once again.
Hussain Mohammed Ershad, 1982-90
Despite a boycott by the BNP, Parliamentary elections were held on schedule in May 1986. The Jatiya Party won a modest majority of the 300 elected seats in the National Assembly. Participation of the Awami League lent this election some credibility, despite widespread charges of voting irregularities.
Ershad resigned as Army Chief of Staff and retired from military service in preparation for the presidential elections, scheduled for October 1986. Both the BNP and the AL refused to put up opposing candidates. Ershad easily outdistanced the remaining candidates with 84% of the vote. Despite government's claim of turnout of more than 50%, opposition leaders and much of the foreign press estimated a far lower percentage and alleged voting irregularities. In November 1986, his government amended the constitution and confirmed the previous actions of the martial law regime. The President then lifted martial law and the opposition parties took their elected seats in the National Assembly.
In July 1987, the government pushed through a controversial legislative bill to include military representation on local administrative councils, the opposition walked out of Parliament. Passage of the bill sparked an opposition movement that quickly gathered momentum, uniting opposition parties for the first time. The government began to arrest many opposition activists under the country's Special Powers Act of 1974. Despite these arrests, opposition parties continued to organize protest and nationwide Hartals. After declaring a State of Emergency, Ershad dissolved the Parliament and scheduled fresh election for March 1988.
All major opposition parties refused government overtures to participate in these polls, maintaining that the government was 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 illegitimate, passed a large number of bills. The opposition to Ershad's rule then began to regain momentum, escalating by the end of 1990 in frequent hartals, increased University campus protests, public rallies and a general disintegration of law and order.
Ershad resigned on 6 December 1990 and on 27 February1991, the "interim government" headed by Acting President Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed oversaw what most observers believed to be the nation's most free and fair elections to that date.
Khaleda Zia, 1991-96
In February 1996, Khaleda Zia was re-elected by a landslide in an impetuous national election that boycotted and denounced as unfair by the 3 other 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 and conduct new parliamentary elections; former Chief Justice Mohammed Habibur Rahman was named Chief Adviser in the interim government. New parliamentary elections were held in June 1996, the Awami League won plurality and formed the government with support from the Jatiya Party led by deposed president Ershad; party leader Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister.
Sheikh Hasina, 1996-2001
In July 2001, the Awami League government stepped down to allow a Caretaker Government to preside over Parliamentary elections. Political violences that had increased during the Awami League government's tenure continued to increase through up to the election. In August 2001, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina agreed during a visit of former President Jimmy Carter to respect the results of the election, join the Parliament regardless of winning or losing, foreswear the use Hartals as political tools and successful government would allow more meaningful role for the opposition in Parliament. The caretaker government was successful in containing the violence that allowed a Parliamentary general election held on 1 October 2001.
Khaleda Zia, 2001-2006
In February 2006, the AL raised demands for early elections and requested significant changes in the electoral and Caretaker Government systems to stop alleged moves by the ruling coalition to rig the next election. The AL blames the ruling party for several high-profile attacks on opposition leaders and asserts that the ruling party is bent on eliminating Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League as a viable force. The BNP and its allies accuse the AL of maligning Bangladesh at home and abroad out of jealousy over the government's performance on development and economic issues. Dialogue between the Secretaries General of these main ruling and opposition parties, Jalil and Bhuiyan was adumbrated initially but failed in sorting out the electoral reform issues. Awami League then called "lagathar Hartal" and "Aborodh" those attributed to miserable sufferings to ordinary citizens and lawlessness with hostility and violences throughout the country.
Caretaker Government, October 2006-Present
On 3 January 2007, the Awami League announced that they would boycott the January 22 parliamentary elections. The Awami League planned and declared their renewed country-wide Aborodh and Lagahtar Hartal.
Mohammad Gani is writer and contributes articles on Bangladesh current affairs. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA