Sheikh Hasina seeks comeback

Sheikh Hasina seeks comeback

Dhaka: Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the former prime minister of Bangladesh whose father led the nation to independence, is aiming to return to power after a year in custody on murder, extortion and graft charges.

Such allegations might have derailed many a political leader, but she never left the front line of Bangladesh’s turbulent political scene and was bidding to seal her comeback in Monday’s national election.

The charges -- the exact number has never really been clear -- are frozen, but in theory the murder count remains outstanding, together with some of the charges of extortion and graft.

Now 61, Sheikh Hasina ruled Bangladesh from 1996 to 2001, although she has struggled to escape out of the shadow of her father, who was assassinated in a 1975 military coup.

The killings wiped out almost her whole family including her mother, three brothers, and father, president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh in its liberation struggle against Pakistan in 1971.

Known for her fiery speeches, the leader of the left-of-centre Awami League told a crowd of 100,000 at her final election rally: “There is a threat on my life but I’ll continue my struggle to see the country smile.

“I’ll serve you until I die."

Her key election promises have been to fight poverty in the country of 144 million, to lower food prices and modernise the country through technology.

On the campaign trail she has spoken from behind bullet-proof glass or even delivered speeches via a video link due to reports that Islamic militants were plotting to kill her before the election.

In August 2004, she survived an attempt on her life at a political rally, although more than 20 people died in the attack and her car was raked with bullets as she fled the scene.

In 1990, she joined forces with Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to help oust military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad.

But afterwards their mutual dislike -- played out by supporters in violent street protests -- was blamed for the January 2007 crisis that prompted the military to step in, impose emergency rule and set up a caretaker government.

The two women, known as the “battling begums", were jailed by the current army-backed caretaker government as part of its crackdown on corruption but have been released to take part in the polls.

Although several charges against Sheikh Hasina have in recent months been dropped, at one time she faced at least half a dozen graft charges and one for the murder of four protesters killed in pre-election violence in 2006.

The Awami League, Bangladesh’s oldest party, was formed in 1948 after the foundation of East Pakistan -- as the country was then called -- and has traditionally been seen as pro-India.

Hasina has moved the party away from the socialist economics supported by her father toward a market-based approach that backs private sector expansion.