1980s in Bangladesh

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SAARC Shahjalal International Airport Noor Hossain Hussain Muhammad Ershad 1988 Bangladesh cyclone
A montage of notable people of and events of Bangladesh in the 1980s including (clockwise from top left): Image of Shahjalal International Airport, originally known as Zia International Airport; HM Ershad's reception for SAARC Head of States in Dhaka 1986; Noor Hossain protesting shortly before he was shot to death by police on 10 November 1987; The 1988 Bangladesh cyclone was one of the worst tropical cyclones in Bangladeshi history[ and portrait of Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who ruled Bangladesh for most of 1980s.

The 1980s (pronounced "nineteen-eighties", commonly shortened as the "'80s", pronounced "eighties") was a decade of the Gregorian calendar that began on January 1, 1980, and ended on December 31, 1989. For Bangladesh this decade was characterized by economic hardship, natural disasters and military dictatorship. Hussain Muhammad Ershad ruled Bangladesh almost throughout the decade. Infrastructure development was slow but there was notable progress in local government administration, population control and NGO led microfinance activities which boosted the rural economy. The urge of freedom of speech and return to democracy influenced the cultural activities in the decade.

Politics and National life

Assassination of Ziaur Rahman

The decade began with President Ziaur Rahman at the helm. Zia faced twenty one attempted coups against his government, including one by the air force.[1] His one time ally Colonel Abu Taher was tried for treason and executed. Similar fates were met by many of his perceived rivals in the armed forces. However, the final coup attempt resulted in his assassination in 1981. Zia was killed by troops loyal to Major General Abul Manzoor who stormed his official residence in Chittagong on 30 May 1981. The mutiny was later suppressed by army chief Lieutenant General Hussain Muhammad Ershad.[1]

Sattar administration

Zia was succeeded by Vice-President Abdus Sattar. President Sattar received a popular mandate during the 1981 presidential election, despite allegations of vote rigging by his rival Kamal Hossain. Sattar's presidency was marked by infighting within the ruling BNP, which forced cabinet reshuffles and the resignation of Vice-President Mirza Nurul Huda. A national security council was formed amid anti-Bengali Muslim violence in Northeast India and Burma.[2][2] Sattar also suffered from health problems due to old age.

The 1982 Bangladesh coup d'état deposed President Sattar and his civilian government.[2] The Bangladesh military cited food shortages, corruption and economic mismanagement as reasons behind the coup.

Ershad administration

Presidential Oath Ceremony after 1986 election, with the Chief Justice and Military Secretary (1984–1989) Brigadier ABM Elias

Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Hussain Muhammad Ershad assumed power in a bloodless coup on 24 March 1982, citing the "grave political, economic, and societal crisis" that the nation was in. This move was not unanticipated, as Ershad had previously expressed distaste with the ageing Sattar (who was past his 75th birthday) and his handling of national affairs, in addition to his refusal to allow the army more participation in politics. Like his predecessors, Ershad suspended the constitution and—citing pervasive corruption, ineffectual government, and economic mismanagement—declared martial law. Among his first actions were to privatise the largely state-owned economy (up to 70% of industry was in public ownership) and encourage private investment in heavy industries along with light manufacturing, raw materials, and newspapers. Foreign companies were invited to invest in Bangladeshi industry as well, and stiff protectionist measures were put in place to safeguard manufacturing. All political parties and trade unions were banned for the time being, with the death penalty to be administered for corruption and political agitation. Ershad's takeover was generally viewed as a positive development, as Bangladesh was in a state of serious economic difficulty. Two weeks before the coup in March, Prime Minister Shah Azizur Rahman announced that the country was facing significant food shortages. The government also faced a severe budget deficit to the tune of 4 billion takas, and the IMF declared that it would not provide any more loans until Bangladesh paid down some of its existing debts. The following year, Ershad assumed the presidency, retaining his positions as army chief and CMLA. During most of 1984, Ershad sought the opposition parties' participation in local elections under martial law. The opposition's refusal to participate, however, forced Ershad to abandon these plans. Ershad sought public support for his regime in a national referendum on his leadership in March 1985. He won overwhelmingly, although turnout was small. Two months later, Ershad held elections for local council chairmen. Pro-government candidates won a majority of the posts, setting in motion the President's ambitious decentralisation program. Political life was further liberalised in early 1986, and additional political rights, including the right to hold large public rallies, were restored. At the same time, the Jatiya (National) Party, designed as Ershad's political vehicle for the transition from martial law, was established.[3]

Despite a boycott by the BNP, led by President Zia's widow, Begum Khaleda Zia, parliamentary elections were held on schedule in May 1986. The Jatiya Party won a modest majority of the 300 elected seats in the National Assembly. The participation of the Awami League—led by the late President Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed—lent the elections some credibility, despite widespread charges of voting irregularities.[3]

Ershad resigned as Army Chief of Staff and retired from military service in preparation for the presidential elections, scheduled for October. Protesting that martial law was still in effect, both the BNP and the AL refused to put up opposing candidates. Ershad easily outdistanced the remaining candidates, taking 84% of the vote. Although Ershad's government claimed a turnout of more than 50%, opposition leaders, and much of the foreign press, estimated a far lower percentage and alleged voting irregularities.

Ershad continued his stated commitment to lift martial law. In November 1986, his government mustered the necessary two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to amend the constitution and confirm the previous actions of the martial law regime. The President then lifted martial law, and the opposition parties took their elected seats in the National Assembly.[3]

In July 1987, however, after the government hastily pushed through a controversial legislative bill to include military representation on local administrative councils, the opposition walked out of Parliament. Passage of the bill helped spark an opposition movement that quickly gathered momentum, uniting Bangladesh's opposition parties for the first time. The government began to arrest scores of opposition activists under the country's Special Powers Act of 1974. Despite these arrests, opposition parties continued to organise protest marches and nationwide strikes. After declaring a state of emergency, Ershad dissolved Parliament and scheduled fresh elections for March 1988.[3]

All major opposition parties refused government overtures to participate in these polls, maintaining that the government was incapable of holding free and fair elections. Despite the opposition boycott, the government proceeded. The ruling Jatiya Party won 251 of the 300 seats. The Parliament, while still regarded by the opposition as an illegitimate body, held its sessions as scheduled, and passed numerous bills, including, in June 1988, a controversial constitutional amendment making Islam Bangladesh's state religion and provision for setting up High Court benches in major cities outside of Dhaka. While Islam remains the state religion, the provision for decentralising the High Court division has been struck down by the Supreme Court.[3]

By 1989, the domestic political situation in the country seemed to have quieted. The local council elections were generally considered by international observers to have been less violent and more free and fair than previous elections. However, opposition to Ershad's rule began to regain momentum, escalating by the end of 1990 in frequent general strikes, increased campus protests, public rallies, and a general disintegration of law and order.[3]

See also

Years in Bangladesh in the decade of


  1. ^ a b Mascarenhas, Anthony. Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood. Hodder and Stoughton.
  2. ^ a b c Preston, Ian, ed. (2003). A Political Chronology of Central, South and East Asia. Europa Publications. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-135-35680-4.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (March 2008). "Background Note: Bangladesh". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 11 June 2008. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
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