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History, Ershad Regime

Ershad, Awami League, people homeless, parliamentary elections, landslide victory

Ershad immediately proclaimed martial law, suspending the constitution and prohibiting all political activities. Ershad ruled under a figurehead president until December 1983, when he assumed the presidency. Although martial law remained in effect, Ershad allowed limited political activities to resume, and his supporters formed the Jatiya Dal Party. Two major opposition alliances formed under the leadership of the Awami League, represented by Sheikh Hasina Wajid, the eldest daughter of Mujib, and the BNP, headed by Begum Khaleda Zia, the widow of President Zia. Although rivals, the two parties joined forces to lead a broader opposition front, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy. The movement demanded an end to martial law, restoration of civil rights, release of political prisoners, and parliamentary elections.

In March 1986 Ershad eased martial law restrictions in order to satisfy some of the demands of the opposition. Parliamentary elections were finally held in May. While the BNP-led alliance boycotted the elections, the Awami League chose to participate. The Jatiya Dal won a comfortable parliamentary majority, and Ershad proceeded with plans for a presidential election in October. Opposition parties, including the Awami League, boycotted the election, declaring it a sham as long as martial law remained in effect. Ershad won a five-year term with more than 80 percent of the vote.

In November a parliamentary session boycotted by the Awami League passed legislation protecting Ershad’s military regime from reprisals. Ershad then lifted martial law and reinstated the constitution. Subsequently, the Awami League withdrew from parliament and rejoined the BNP and other opposition parties in staging general strikes and public demonstrations. In response, Ershad declared a state of emergency and dissolved the parliament. New elections were held in March 1988 with both the BNP and the Awami League boycotting. In consequence, the Jatiya Party (formerly the Jatiya Dal) won a landslide victory. In September of that year, devastating floods inundated about three-fourths of the country and left an estimated 30 million people homeless.

In concert with activist student organizations, the BNP and the Awami League continued to work together to demand free and fair elections in Bangladesh. Faced with a massive wave of strikes and violent demonstrations, Ershad was forced to resign in December 1990. He was subsequently convicted and imprisoned on charges of corruption and illegal weapons possession.

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