Analysis: Is it the end of the road for Khaleda Zia?

Taking to the streets: BNP supporters in Dhaka protest the sentencing of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.   | Photo Credit: Allison Joyce

Following Khaleda Zia’s conviction and jailing, political circles are rife with speculation on the future of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), ahead of the general election scheduled to take place at the end of the year.

Soon after Dhaka’s Special Judge’s Court pronounced the verdict on Thursday in the ‘Zia Orphanage Case’, the BNP announced that its senior vice chairperson Tarique Rahman will run the party. Tarique, the eldest son of Zia who has been living in London for nine years, was sentenced to a 10-year term in the same case.

BNP leaders are hopeful that Zia will get bail soon. However, legal experts say that she may have to stay in jail till her lawyers obtain a certified copy of the verdict and file an appeal.

The bail process may be delayed if the certified copy does not arrive in time.

Experts are also divided on whether Zia can participate in the December general election. The law stipulates that if someone is convicted for at least two years, he or she cannot contest the election for the next five years. If her appeal is accepted and she gets bail, she can participate. However, if the higher court upholds her sentence, she will get disqualified.

Boycott of last poll

With its staunch ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the BNP had boycotted the 2014 general election, allowing an easy win to the Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The party, largely disorganised since the last election, has also failed to show much of its strength on street despite levelling allegations of oppression against the government.

It was widely anticipated that Zia would participate in the forthcoming election, irrespective of whether her demand for a poll-time caretaker government was met. Now, most observers are certain now that without her, the BNP is likely to face a political crisis.

Some analysts also see a distinct shift in tone when it comes to the BNP’s reaction to Zia’s conviction. The party has showed its strong resentment to the verdict, calling it “politically motivated”, but has not called for a hartal or a blockade. However, given the party’s present limited organisational ability, it may be too ambitious for it to lead a successful anti-government agitation for now, political pundits think .

Gen. H.M. Ershad, who ruled Bangladesh for nine years before being ousted by a mass upsurge in 1990, was in jail for corruption for several years when Zia was in power. Ershad is now a free man and heads his own political party, the Jatiya Party.

However, it is too early to predict what lies in store for Khaleda Zia. The irony inherent in Bangladesh’s political culture is that corruption charges against political leaders are perceived as victimisation by most supporters, even if the corruption is real. Therefore, Zia may enjoy sympathy when in jail.

Meanwhile, violence erupted in major cities across Bangladesh as news of the guilty verdict spread on Thursday, with BNP supporters clashing with police and activists from the ruling party.

Around 3,500 opposition activists and officials were arrested in a sweep by security forces ahead of the verdict, according to the BNP.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 11:58:34 AM |

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