Dissidents in Bangladesh’s largest political party have ousted former prime minister Khaleda Zia as leader while she is under arrest on corruption charges, officials said on Tuesday.
The move comes amid a worsening split within the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) between Zia’s loyalists and so-called reformers attempting to revitalise the party in line with the emergency government’s anti-graft drive.
Former finance minister M. Saifur Rahman, seen as a dissident in the BNP, said he was made acting party chief in Zia’s absence after a marathon party meeting late on Monday.
Hafizuddin Ahmed, another former minister and a key BNP rebel, was made acting secretary general in place of Zia loyalist Khandaker Delwar Hossain — who is sick.
But a close aide to Zia said it was unclear if the changes were legal.
“We cannot make any comment right now. We have to see whether the changes were made as per the party's constitution,” A.S.M Hannan Shah said.
Zia has been arrested along with her younger son Arafat Rahman and remanded in custody on charges of graft, linked to the awarding of a multi-million-dollar government contract.
She has also been trying to fight a growing party rebellion, and had fired her deputy in the BNP hierarchy, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, for “conspiracy to split the party”.
That sacking was also annulled by the latest party meeting, officials said.
The BNP was Bangladesh’s last governing party, but has been in turmoil since elections were cancelled in January over opposition allegations of poll rigging.
Since then, the country has been ruled by an army-backed emergency government, which has embarked on a campaign to clean up the country’s notoriously dysfunctional and dynastic political landscape. Zia, 63, has been one of the main targets, along with arch-rival Sheikh Hasina Wajed, another former premier and the leader of the Awami League. The latter is also behind bars facing corruption charges.
The emergency government has promised to restore democracy by the end of 2008.