On September 22, a Bangladesh court opened trial against Khaleda Zia, the leader of the main opposition party BNP, in two corruption cases. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had filed the cases against the two-time PM, her son Tarique Rahman and seven others. Khaleda has been charged with siphoning off $400,000 from the Zia Charitable Trust and also accused of leading a group of five persons, including her eldest son, in embezzling $277,000 meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust.
Khaleda’s lawyers say that the charges, framed in 2008, are “false and fabricated” and politically motivated to destroy Zia, her family and the BNP.
Khaleda has been confronting a credibility crisis for quite some time. She spent about two years (2007-08) in jail when the then military-backed caretaker government detained her as part of crackdown on corruption. A major reason for the BNP’s defeat in the 2008 parliamentary polls was the BNP-Jamaat government’s (2001-06) corrupt ways. The government was also held responsible for facilitating the resurgence of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh. Moreover, Tarique’s reckless behaviour has also irked many. Eventually, such sentiment was reflected in the party’s poor poll performance. Bangladeshi civil society has also questioned the BNP’s alliance with the Islamist Jamaat, which had violently resisted the creation of a Bengali nation four decades ago. Khaleda and frontline BNP leaders claim that the alliance is tactical but the secular nationalists are not convinced with this rationale. A combination of all these factors has eroded much of Khaleda’s popularity over the years. The trial, which has been adjourned till October 2013, should be viewed from the perspectives of Bangladesh’s political culture and its inherent volatile nature. Once the proceedings reach the final stage and the verdict is announced, it is likely that the BNP activists will take to the streets.
The establishment of the rule of law has always been a challenge of governance since multi-party parliamentary democracy was restored in 1991 after military rule.
Bangladesh recently saw violence when the International Crimes Tribunal indicted and sentenced several top leaders of the Jamaat for their crimes during the 1971 war. Given the sharply polarised nature of the polity, it seems likely that Bangladesh is bracing itself for another round of turmoil, which will weaken the fledgling democracy.
Rupak Bhattacharjee is an independent analyst
The views expressed by the author are personal