Central & South Asia
Profile: Sheikh Hasina Wajed
Consummate survivor claims landslide win in Bangladeshi general election.
Last Modified: 30 Dec 2008 08:10 GMT
Most of Sheikh Hasina's family were killed following a military coup in 1975 [AFP]

Sheika Hasina Wajed, the 61-year-old leader of the left-of-centre Awami League party, has claimed a landslide election victory following the December 29 general election.

A consummate survivor, Hasina has overcome myriad corruption and extortion allegations, jail, violence and security threats to lead her country for a second time.

Hasina has spent a year in prison on murder and corruption charges that were subsequently dropped or frozen, survived assassination attempts and the near annihilation of her family during the 1975 military coup.

Family killed

Most of the politician’s family were killed in the coup, including her mother, three brothers and her father, the then president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led the country in its liberation struggle against Pakistan in 1971.

Hasina and her sister were abroad at the time of the 1975 coup.

In August 2004, she survived yet another assassination attempt at a political rally. The grenade attack left more than 20 people dead and her car was peppered with bullets as she fled the scene.

Known for her fiery speeches and fierce ambition, Hasina has been reduced to campaigning from behind bullet-proof glass or delivering rally speeches via video link as she believes Islamic fighter groups want to assassinate her.

Hasina ruled Bangladesh from 1996 to 2001, after defeating her arch rival, Khaleda Zia, who eventually regained power in 2001.

"I call upon all political parties believing in democratic values to put an end to politics of conflict and vengeance in the greater interest of the nation"

Sheikh Hasina Wajed

In 1990 the two female politicians, nicknamed the “battling begums”, forged an unlikely alliance in order to oust military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad.

However, their mutual dislike and distrust, played out by supporters in violent street protests, was blamed for the January 2007 crisis that prompted the military to step in, impose military rule and install a caretaker government.

Both women were arrested and jailed by the current army-backed interim government as part of its crackdown on corruption. Hasina and Zia were both eventually released in order to take part in the poll.

Outstanding charges

While several of the charges against Hasina have been dropped, she could, in theory at least, still face murder and some extortion and corruption charges.

The murder charge relates to the death of four protesters during pre-election violence in 2006.

The Awami League is Bangladesh’s oldest party and was formed in 1948 after the foundation of East Pakistan – as the country was known before gaining independence from Pakistan. The party is widely regarded as being broadly pro-India.

Hasina, like her rival Zia, campaigned on a modernisation ticket, pledging to introduce new technology, cut food prices and alleviate conditions for the 45 per cent of Bangladesh’s 144 million-strong population who live under the poverty line.

Critics say Hasina, who has moved her party away from socialist-based economic policies supported by her father, achieved little in office and fear that the old divisions will soon surface once she gains office.

Speaking a day before the elections, Hasina said: “Ahead of the parliamentary election, I call upon all political parties believing in democratic values to put an end to politics of conflict and vengeance in the greater interest of the nation.”

With little to choose between both women’s policies, analysts say what matters most now is not who wins, but rather that all sides accept the election result.

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