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Recent Developments, Tumultuous Politics

Ershad, Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, low voter turnout, general strike

In May 1994 opposition parties began a series of boycotts of parliament, amid a deepening personal feud between Prime Minister Zia and Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina. The Awami League-led opposition demanded that future elections be held under a neutral caretaker government. In December opposition members in parliament resigned en masse to force new elections. They organized a series of violent strikes in January 1995. The parliament was dissolved in November to make way for a general election; however, opposition parties refused to participate without the appointment of a neutral caretaker government. The general election went ahead in February 1996, but the opposition boycott, low voter turnout, and violent incidents undermined the landslide victory of the ruling BNP.

The opposition parties refused to recognize the election results and called a general strike, which strained Bangladesh’s economy. With strikes and violent demonstrations threatening the stability of the country, Zia bowed to opposition demands. After pushing through a constitutional amendment to provide for a neutral caretaker government, she resigned in March.

New elections, held in June under the supervision of the caretaker government, brought a shift in power to Bangladesh. The Awami League won the most seats and, forming a coalition with the Jatiya Party, gained a majority in parliament. Sheikh Hasina was named prime minister. The BNP, winning slightly more than one-third of parliamentary seats, formed the official opposition. Despite the BNP’s active opposition tactics, Sheikh Hasina became the first prime minister of Bangladesh to complete a full term in office.

Before the 2001 elections, the Jatiya Party split into three factions, with one joining the BNP-led four-party alliance. Ershad, who had been released from prison in January 1997 and continued to lead the Jatiya Party, was not permitted to be a candidate due to his former conviction. In the October elections the Awami League was soundly defeated as the BNP-led coalition won more than two-thirds of the parliamentary seats. Zia became prime minister a second time.

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