Khaleda Zia

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Khaleda Zia in public meeting

Khaleda Zia (in bengali:খালেদা জিয়া) (born 15 August 1945), three times elected Prime Minister of Bangladesh, currently Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. She became the first woman Prime Minister of the country in 1991, and leading "Bangladesh Nationalist Party" for 28 years was founded by her husband late President Ziaur Rahman BU. In 39 years of independence of Bangladesh, Mrs. Zia ruled the country for longest period - 10 years. [1] She has been elected to five different parliamentary constituencies in five general elections of 1991, 1996, 1996, 2001, and 2008 a feat unachievable by any other politician in Bangladesh history.[2] In 2006, Forbes ranked Khaleda Zia #29 in its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world.[3]


Khaleda was the third among the five children of her parents Eskander Majumder and Tayaba Majumder. She had her education at Dinajpur Government Girls High School and Surendranath College in northern Bangladesh. In 1960 she was married to Ziaur Rahman, then a Captain of Pakistan Army who proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh during war of liberation in 1971[4] and later became the President of the Republic in 1977.

Political career

It was the tragic death of her husband President Ziaur Rahman in May 1981 that changed her entire life-pattern and brought her into the mainstream of national politics, and eventually to the reign of the country. Power, however, did not come automatically to Begum Khaleda Zia, she had to earn it at an immense cost and personal sacrifices. She encountered personal tragedies in the assassination of her husband, courted arrests eight times in nine years and had to continually undergo harassment and repression at the hands of the autocratic regime during 1982-90. But nothing could deter her from the mission of freeing the nation from autocratic rule and re-establishing a democratic politics in the country.[5] After the assassination of President Ziaur Rahman, Vice-President Justice Abdus Sattar took over as the acting President and also as Chairman of the BNP. On March 24, 1982 Army Chief General Hussain Muhammad Ershad overthrew Justice Abdus Sattar in a bloodless coup. In March 1983, Justice Sattar appointed Khaleda Zia as vice-chairman of the BNP. In February 1984, she became the chairperson as Justice Sattar retired from politics. On August 10, 1984 the party elected Khaleda Zia, the chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Under the leadership of Begum Zia, BNP formed a 7-party alliance in 1983 and launched a relentless struggle against the autocratic regime of General Ershad. During the 9 year-long struggle against Ershad, Begum Zia did not compromise with his autocratic and illegitimate government. For her strict adherence to the principles, the government restricted her movements by using prohibitive laws, arrest and detention. But undaunted, Begum Zia continued to provide leadership in the movement for ousting Ershad. For her unbending and uncompromising struggle Khaleda Zia, earned a name 'uncompromising leader' (in bengali:আপোষহীন নেত্রী). Khaleda refused to give legitimacy to Ershad's government by declining to participate in any elections under his regime. Sheikh Hasina, leader of Awami League, for her turn, had vowed to do the same. Half through Ershad's demonic rule, in a public meeting in Chittagong she said that only a "national traitor" would participate in any election while Ershad was in power. Two days later, Hasina changed her mind and decided to "oust Ershad through democratic process", giving Khaleda a field day. In the face of a mass upsurge spearheaded by alliances at last Ershad handed over power to a neutral caretaker government on 6 December 1990. [6]

Prime Minister

1st term

In the Parliament elections of 27 February 1991 under a Non-Party Caretaker Government headed by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, Begum Khaleda Zia led her party to a thumping victory, herself emerging as the most popular political leader of the country. On 20 March 1991 she was sworn in as the country's first woman Prime Minister in a Presidential form of Government. Respecting the wishes of the people, Begum Khaleda Zia and her party took the lead in switching over from the Presidential to the Parliamentary system of Government in order to give the hard-won democracy a permanent institutional shape. She formally took over as the Head of Government on 19 September 1991 under the Parliamentary system.

Begum Zia's `Dall-Bhaat' (in bengali: ডাল-ভাত) (lentil and rice) approach received both regional and international acceptance as a tangible program for poverty alleviation in SAARC countries as well as in other developing nations. The government of Khaleda Zia made tangible progress in empowering huge rural womenfolk in the countryside. Her government made considerable progress in the education sector, including introduction of free and compulsory primary education, tuition-free education for girls up to class ten, stipend for female students and the Food for Education program. It also goes to the credit of her government that during this period, tree plantation, poultry, and fishery had become a nationwide social movement. Further, it was in this period that the construction of the Jamuna Bridge was started. It also increased the age limit for entry into the civil service from 27 years to 30 years and made highest budgetary allocation in the education sector. Side by side, she initiated bold reforms to revitalize national economy, accelerate production in all sectors and to alleviate poverty. Agriculture, the mainstay of Bangladesh's economy, was given the main thrust to achieve record in food production in the shortest possible time. Khaleda Zia played a commendable role in revitalizing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Promoting good neighborly relations, strengthening regional cooperation within the ambit of SAARC, strict adherence to the UN Charter and furthering world peace and amity were the cornerstones of her government's foreign policy.

2nd Term

Zia became Prime Minister for the second consecutive term after the February 1996 general election. In the 12 June 1996 polls, the BNP emerged as the largest opposition party in the country's parliamentary history with 116 seats. The party under the leadership of Begum Zia formed a four-party opposition alliance on 6 January 1999. Her party BNP restored the parliamentary system through the 12th amendment to the Constitution in 1991 and introduced the Caretaker Government for holding neutral and free election through 13th amendment to the Constitution in 1996.

3rd Term

The alliance participated in the 1 October 2001 general election held under a Non-party Caretaker Government and won the polls with two-thirds majority. Begum Khaleda Zia was sworn in on 10 October 2001 as the Prime Minister of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh for the third time. Soon after taking over the responsibilities of the government in October 2001 she announced a 100-day program to fulfill most of her election pledges to the nation. The share of domestic resources in economic development efforts also grew during her this term in sharp contrast to the picture during the previous regime which even had to borrow from abroad to pay salary of government employees. Bangladesh enjoyed a positive image in the international community at the time for which very big investment teams, as never before or afterwords, were sent by Japan, Great Britain, to name a few. Even then industrial investment including from abroad grew substantially during her first term in office. Her government pursued a dynamic and positive foreign policy promoting good neighborly relations, especially look-east policy, bolstering regional cooperation in South Asia, strict adherence to the UN Charter and furthering world peace and amity, peaceful and negotiated settlement of all international disputes, renunciation of use of force in international relations. It was during her tenure that Bangladesh’s involvement began to increase rapidly in international peacekeeping efforts under the UN blue helmets. In 2006, Forbes commented about this regime as Zia once again gained the helm in 2001, pursuing her platform mainstays: educating young girls (nearly 70% of Bangladeshi women are illiterate) and distributing food to the poor (half of Bangladesh's 135 million people live below the poverty line). Though many challenges remain, Zia has managed to promote strong GDP growth (5%) based on economic reforms and support of a burgeoning entrepreneurial culture.[7] On October 27, 2006, Zia's term in office ended. The following day rioting broke out on the streets of central Dhaka following uncertainty over who would succeed her as Chief Adviser of Caretaker Government. On the same day evening, a presidential statement declared that former Supreme Court Chief Justice K.M. Hasan (who had been due to take over as Chief Adviser) would not be assuming the role [8]. Subsequently, Prof. Iajuddin Ahmed, President assumed power as Chief Adviser on October 29.

2007-08 State of Emergency

Within nationwide political impasses the 9th parliament election was scheduled on January 22, 2007 where all political parties were in the run after fruitful negotiations. On 3rd January 2007 Awami league led political alliance departed from the election and started agitation and anarchy in the street which followed by a military intervention within a week. On 11 January Army Chief Lt. General Moeen U Ahmed invaded into the Country's President house and compelled President Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed to resign from the post of caretaker government head, and postponed the forthcoming election, impose curfew and state of emergency, and bypassed country's constitution to appoint Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former central bank governor as Chief Adviser of caretaker government.[9] The new administration started anti-corruption drive following the formula of Pakistani military ruler General Parvez Mosharraf.[10] The anti-corruption drive was fully controlled by Army Chief General Moeen, had arrested tortured and harassed hundreds of political figures including two ex-prime ministers, businessmen and government officials and filed many false cases.[11] Many people were physically and mentally tortured in the name of interrogation, many were imprisoned for a long time without any reason, and many rich people were forced to pay huge amounts of money with or without being given any receipts, many markets, shops, and houses were demolished across the country hindering economic activities. Special courts were set up for trial of political leaders where pre-determined verdicts were declared by the judges. Members of intelligence agencies made the trials a mockery of justice by their physical presence in the courts. But finally, all mechanisms became fail to create a political platform for the then Army Chief General Moeen U Ahmed, who was eager to be the president of the country. The plan is popularly known as “One-Eleven”. [12] In post 1/11, Khaleda Zia herself became the most tortured person in the country. Failing to expel Khaleda from the country, the army backed administration not only arrested Khaleda Zia but also her two sons Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman[13]. She was given enormous pressure to depart from the country and politics. To keep stress, her both sons were taken into series of remand and were severely tortured. She was told in graphic details of the torture inflicted on her son Tarique, and also informed when they break two strong thoracic vertebra of Tarique. [14] It was rumored near death situation condition of Arafat Rahman within hours after he was taken to the torture chamber and hanged from the ceiling. During her one year captive Mrs. Zia was being accused for several cases in the court, were popularly known as “kangaroo court”. [15]

After 1/11 a large number of senior leaders of BNP were purchased or driven by the military intelligence agency and tried to remove Mrs. Zia from her party. [16] When her party has been vandalized, her sons were being tortured and most of her long trusted colleagues have abandoned her, Begum Zia remain unwavering and uncompromising with the military junta. Faced with a failing reform agenda, economic collapse and declining popular support, the Caretaker Government was forced to negotiate an end to the state of emergency with the political parties. Talks beginning at the end of 2007 overcame many obstacles to multi-party elections, including the release from prison of former Prime Ministers . Zia's son Arafat released in August 2008 followed by the elder son Tarique on September 3, 2008 on bail and Mrs. Zia was released September 11 of 2008 from detention. During the one and half year of confinements army-backed administration mounted enormous pressure she was offered many deals, as well. And yet then, she remained hell-bent against any deal. She again proved, Khaleda Zia will rather break, but never bend.

2008 election

After two years of illegitimate rule by military backed care-taker administration, the general elections held in December 2008. BNP participated the election for the sake of democracy. The Awami League won a landslide victory formed government with the leadership of Sheikh Hasina. For the second time, Khaleda Zia became the Leader of the Opposition of Bangladesh Parliament, initially challenged the results for election irregularities[17] and impossible high casting, [18] but finally attended the parliament and said that she would "work with her rival.”

Re-elected Party Chief

In the 5th council of Bangladesh Nationalist Party held on 8 December 2009 Khaleda Zia reelected as Chairperson of the party. [19]


Khaleda Zia is the mother of two sons Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman, and grandmother of grand children Zaima, Zafira and Zahia. Her hobbies include reading, gardening and listening to music.


  1. [1]"Encyclopædia Britannica"
  2. [2] Banglapedia:Zia, Begum Khaleda
  3. [3] "The 100 Most Powerful Women"
  4. [4] "Tajuddin said, Independence was first announced through Major Zia Rahman"
  5. [5]Muslim Women: Past and Present: Khaleda Zia
  6. [6]"That One May Smile, and Smile, and be a Villain"
  7. [7] "Forbes, August 26, 2006"
  8. [8]"Time to redefine caretakers"
  9. [9] January 24th 2007 "The coup that dare not speak its name"
  10. [10]"ACC chief goes to Pakistan today"
  11. [11] "Bangladesh ex-PM Khaleda Zia arrested on graft charge"
  12. [12]"BNP MPs demand trial of Moeen"
  13. [13] "Bangladesh ex-PM son detained", Al Jazeera, April 16, 2007
  14. [14]Rulers turning Tarique Rahman into 'Zia'
  15. [15]"No rule of law during military-backed CG'"
  16. [16] "Bangladesh court rejects Zia appeal", Al Jazeera, April 10, 2008.
  17. [17]BNP now alleges 'digital rigging'
  18. [18] "87.16pc turnout in 9th JS polls"
  19. [19]Khaleda declared elected BNP chief

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