Profile: Khaleda Zia

Two-time president barred from running in this year's election after Thursday's court ruling.

    Zia was propelled into public life after her husband, the then president, was assassinated [AFP]

    Khaleda Zia - the chairperson of the country's main opposition group - the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) - was widely expected to contest this year's general election.

    However, a court on Thursday sentenced the 72-year-old to five years in jail over corruption, in a ruling that could render her ineligible to run.

    Zia was charged with embezzling more than $250,000 from the Zia Orphanage Trust along with her son, Tarique Rahman and four others.

    She has rejected the charges as "politically-motivated", insisting "not a penny" was stolen.

    WATCH: Is Bangladesh moving towards a one-party state? (6:03)

    "This is an attempt to use the court against me, in an effort to sideline me from politics and elections and to isolate me from the people," Zia told reporters ahead of the court ruling.

    The trial's outcome could have huge implications for the country's political direction and stability, with fears the BNP may boycott the polls for a second time.

    However legal experts say Zia can still run if she gets a stay on her punishment from the High Court. Some suggest she can even get it overturned.

    "It is not a criminal case. It is a political case," said Moudud Ahmed, a lawyer and former justice minister.

    "She will be acquitted. It is a case of no evidence."

    Governance marred by corruption

    Initially dismissed by her critics as a politically inexperienced housewife, Zia has served twice as prime minister before her current bid for office.

    A reluctant recruit to Bangladeshi political life, Zia went on to lead the BNP in 1981 after her husband, the then president Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated in an attempted military coup.

    A 35-year-old mother of two at the time of her husband’s death, Zia became Bangladesh's first woman prime minister a decade later.

    Despite having ruled between 1991 and 1996 and from 2001 to 2006, Zia’s terms in office were marred by corruption allegations.

    Along with her political nemesis Sheikh Hasina, Zia was charged with corruption by an interim government established by the military in 2007.

    As part of a deal to allow Zia to resume political life, her two sons - also accused of corruption during her 2001-06 term - relocated to the UK.

    Unlikely to succeed

    Observers believed Zia's 2018 bid for power was unlikely to succeed, but could put up a strong fight against Hasina's Awami League.

    The previous general election, which took place in 2014, was boycotted by the BNP.

    As a result, the Awami League won in a landslide, with its candidates declared victors in 127 of the 154 uncontested seats by default.

    "They [the BNP] have been out of the power for over a decade and the Awami League has only gotten stronger as a party,"  said political analyst and commentator Afsan Chowdhury.

    "The BNP will not stand against [the Awami League] on the street," he said. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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