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Hussain Muhammad Ershad
হুসেইন মুহাম্মদ এরশাদ
President of Bangladesh

In office
11 December 1983 – 6 December 1990
Prime Minister Ataur Rahman Khan
Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury
Moudud Ahmed
Kazi Zafar Ahmed
Preceded by Ahsanuddin Chowdhury
Succeeded by Shahabuddin Ahmed (Acting)
Personal details
Born 1 February 1930(1930-02-01) (age 90)
Cooch Behar, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now in West Bengal, India)
Political party Jatiya Party
Alma mater University of Dhaka
Command and Staff College
Profession Politician
Religion Sunni Islam
Military service
Allegiance Pakistan
Bangladesh
Service/branch Pakistan Army
Bangladesh Army
Years of service 1952 – 1971 (Pakistan), 1971 – 1986 (Bangladesh)
Rank Lieutenant General

Hussain Muhammad Ershad (Bengali language: হুসেইন মুহাম্মদ এরশাদ

Hussein Muhammad Ershad, born 1 February 1930) is a Bangladeshi politician who was President of Bangladesh from 1983 to 1990. Previously, he was Chief of Army Staff of the Bangladesh Army and Chief Martial Law Administrator in 1982 following a bloodless coup.

He has twice been honoured as a United Nations Laureate, for contributions on population and environmental issues.[1][2] He won the parliamentary elections three times after being toppled from the presidency. Although commonly termed as an autocratic military dictator[citation needed], he was popular. While in prison awaiting trial[citation needed], Ershad twice won the parliamentary elections from five different constituencies, in the elections of 1991 and 1996[citation needed]. In 2008 he was part of the formation of a "Grand Alliance," led by the Awami League, in opposition to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's (BNP) Four-Party Alliance. He was the first Bangladeshi politician to apologise publicly for wrongdoings of the past and asked for forgiveness[citation needed]. The Grand Alliance (মহাজোট) won the elections in December 2008, and H M Ershad was elected as a member of parliament. Ershad contributed to developments in infrastructure and socio-economic growth, divesting some nationalised industries. He brought stability to Bangladesh's Armed Forces.[3] Ershad is currently a member of parliament and Chairman of Jatiya Party, the second-largest party in Bangladesh's coalition government, known as Grand Alliance (Mohajote), as of January 2009.

Early life and military career[edit | edit source]

Ershad was born in Dinhata, British India in 1930. His parents migrated from Dinhata (subdivision of Coochbehar district of present West Bengal) to East Pakistan following Partition in 1947. He graduated from the University of Dhaka in 1950 and was commissioned into the Pakistan Army in 1952[citation needed]. He was an adjutant in the East Bengal regimental depot in Chittagong. He also completed advanced courses from the Command and Staff College in Quetta in 1966. After serving with a brigade in Sialkot, he was given command of the 3rd East Bengal Regiment in 1969 and the 7th East Bengal Regiment in 1971.

Bangladesh Liberation War and independence[edit | edit source]

From the beginning of the Bangladesh Liberation War, Ershad was interned along with other Bengali officers stationed in West Pakistan, and held as a prisoner of war. In 1973 he and the others were repatriated to the new nation of Bangladesh in accordance with the Simla Agreement between India's Indira Gandhi and Pakistan's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.[4] After his return, Ershad was appointed Adjutant General of the Bangladesh Army by Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first prime minister of independent Bangladesh. The different experiences of the professional and paramilitary officers and soldiers in Bangladesh, together with the country's diverse cultures in addition to its Muslim majority, created instabilities in the years after independence. The members of the army who had been out of the country during the liberation war later tended to form different political alliances than those who had participated in the war, affecting the stability of national politics and the armed forces.[3] Ershad was sent for advanced military courses at National Defence University (NDU), India.

On 15 August 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated. Although Major General Ziaur Rahman was arrested in a counter-coup on 3 November 1975, he was restored to power in a coup led by Lt. Colonel Abu Taher on 7 November 1975. The Chief Justice of Bangladesh, Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem, succeeded to the presidency on 7 November 1975 during martial law. At that time, Zia Rahman was appointed as the Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator. Major General Zia Rahman was appointed Army Chief by President of Bangladesh Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad. Rahman appointed Ershad as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff in 1975. Ziaur Rahman assumed the presidency after legalising the military coups. He revived the multi-party system through the Fifth Amendment of the Bangladesh Constitution. He appointed H. M. Ershad as the new Chief of Army Staff, promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant General.[5] Viewed as a professional officer because of his imprisonment during the Bangladesh Independence War and having a talent for Bengali speech writing, Ershad soon became the closest politico-military counselor of Ziaur Rahman.[4]

Coup and presidency[edit | edit source]

File:Ershad at Presidential Oath Taking Ceremony after Elected in 1986 with Chief Justice & Military Secretary Brigadier General ABM Elias.JPG

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

After the assassination of Ziaur Rahman on 30 May 1981, Ershad remained loyal to the government.[6] He ordered the army to suppress the coup attempt by Major General Abul Manzoor. Ershad maintained loyalty to the new president Abdus Sattar, who had led the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to victory in elections in 1982.[7] Pressure increased from high-ranking army commanders for the military to take over the government. {{!<--Explanation needed-->}}

Ershad came to power in a bloodless coup on 24 March 1982 as Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA). President Justice Sattar was replaced with A. F. M. Ahsanuddin Chowdhury.[8] Suspending the constitution and political parties, Ershad took over as president on 11 December 1983 by replacing Chowdhury.[9] The Land Reforms Ordinance of 1984[10] granted important rights to tenants for the first time in the history of Bangladesh. A plan for the divestment of government industries promised to move the country away from socialism.

Ershad played a key role during the SAARC Summit in 1985, which was the first summit held in Dhaka, uniting all member states of South-East Asian States.[11] He brought together the leaders of India and Pakistan, Rajiv Gandhi and Ziaul Haque, respectively.

As president, Ershad approved amendments to the constitution of Bangladesh which declared Islam the state religion, abandoning state secularism.[12][13] To improve rural administration, Ershad introduced the Upazila and Zila Parishad system. He held the 'first democratic elections for these village councils' in 1985.

Election of 1986[edit | edit source]

Ershad and his supporters founded the Jatiyo Party to start restoring civilian rule to the government. He also restored the constitution and allowed political parties to be active. Jatiyo nominated Ershad in the Presidential Election of 1986, which was organised by his government. The only significant opposition candidate was Lieutenant Colonel Syed Faruque Rahman, who had been accused in the 15 August Assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the 3 November jail killing in 1975.[citation needed] This was followed by Parliamentary elections, also in 1986. Although it was boycotted by the Bangladesh National Party, led by Zia's widow Khaleda Zia, which accused Ershad's government of trying to legitimise the military autocracy, the Awami League of Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Sheikh Mujibir, participated.[14] The Jatiyo Party, led by Ershad, won the elections and a majority of seats in the Jatiyo Sangshad (parliament). In 1987 Bangladesh's Land Ministry launched the 'Land Reforms Action Program', an initiative to distribute khas, unoccupied state-owned land, to landless families.[15]

SAARC Summit 1986, Dhaka Bangabhaban; HM Ershad, Rajiv Gandhi, Ziaul Huq among other Head of States

Ershad's regime has been sometimes characterised as the longest autocratic rule in Bangladesh.[by whom?] The two general elections were widely criticised by the opposition parties. BNP boycotted the election in 1986. The government gained legitimacy by the participation of the other major opposition party, Awami League, and Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in the nation, which had been revived by President Ziaur Rahman before his death.

Achievements[edit | edit source]

H. M. Ershad stabilised the Bangladesh Armed Forces, which had struggled with a series of coups and counter coups since the nation achieved independence in 1971. These arose in part because of the division in the Army between those who had participated in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, and those who had been interned or voluntarily stayed in West Pakistan during the conflict. As those men were repatriated and the Armed Forces needed their participation, they were welcomed back, but complained of discrimination in favour of the freedom fighters.[3] The repatriated officers comprised 60% of the officers and a sizeable interest group.[3] The freedom fighters, part of the development of Bangladesh from the beginning, tended to identify with the Awami League. The repatriated officers tended to identify with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party as the opposition. They carried out their rivalries in part through coups.[3]

The Bangladesh Armed Forces did not attempt any coups from Ershad's takeover in 1982 until the fall of the BNP government in 1996.[3] The Awami League in alliance with Jatiya Party won the Bangladeshi general election, June 1996.[3]

President Ershad approved the participation in 1988 of the Bangladesh Army in the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations for the first time.[16][17] In addition to contributing to multi-national initiatives, this enabled the Armed Forces to earn foreign currency. Their participation in other UN-sponsored actions has continued to contribute to the Treasury.[18]

Ershad was described by the following:

"He was the first leader in history to sign a death sentence for throwing acid on women. In the early 1980s he himself signed the death sentence of three people who had thrown acid at girls refusing their advances and ordered their public hanging. This led to a dramatic lowering of throwing acid on girls. He also issued death sentence ruling for any one who would mutilate children for begging. In Bangladesh he was the one who passed a law that if a child is found crippled on the road he has to be taken to police custody and then from there to a hospital and appropriate institution. Any one who voluntarily cripples a child or any one is given a death sentence. This also led to a dramatic decline in crippling children for begging in Bangladesh."

"He also had a long-term ruling on health care with issuing free tuberculosis and leprosy drugs for the patients in all the health complexes. He stopped human trafficking on the Bangladesh Borders. He launched a wide spread campaign against use of illicit drugs and opened a drug rehabilitation centre in Bangladesh."

[citation needed]

Issues[edit | edit source]

Both the BNP and the Awami League boycotted the Bangladeshi general election, 1988. There were reports of violence, human rights abuse and corruption during Ershad's tenure, which have been continuing problems in the country. Transparency International characterised Bangladesh as "the most corrupt country in the world" for the first time during the tenure of Awami League (1996 to 2001). It was maintained at that ranking until after the fall of BNP (2001 to 2006), when the military-backed caretaker government (CTG), established in a bloodless coup in January 2007, pursued corruption charges against leaders of both major parties and other politicians.[19][20]

Legacy and honours[edit | edit source]

The Jamuna Bridge

During Ershad's term, construction started on the Jamuna Bridge connecting the country's east and west.[21]

He was honoured twice as a United Nations Laureate during his presidency:

  • 1987, he received the UN Population Award.[1]
  • 1988, in recognition of his campaign for an international convention on the protection and conservation of climate, and other contributions, in 1988, he received the UN Environment Award.

Pressure for democracy[edit | edit source]

A wide umbrella of political parties united against Ershad. Zia's widow Khaleda Zia led the BNP, which allied with the Awami League, led by Mujib's daughter Sheikh Hasina, and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. Other Islamic parties and alliances joined the opposition ranks. They called for strikes and protests that paralysed the state and its economy. Although the parliament was dissolved, fresh elections were boycotted by the opposition, including Awami League and Jamaat. Students launched an intensifying opposition campaign, which ultimately forced Ershad to step down on 6 December 1990. The West, which had backed him for almost a decade, no longer supported the Non-Socialist President after the fall of USSR. Lt General Nuruddin Khan as Chief of Staff of the Army, unlike his predecessor Lt Gen Atiqur Rahman, did not back the President.

Ershad appointed Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed to form an acceptable neutral caretaker government and prepare for democratic elections. This was an innovation that was not provided for in the constitution.[citation needed]. Shahabuddin immediately placed Ershad under arrest and detained him, an action declared illegal in 1998 in a case appealed to the nation's Supreme Court.[22] In 1996 the newly elected government of the Awami League selected Shahabuddin as the President and appointed Lt General Nuruddin Khan as the Energy Minister. After a period of time, he was demoted to minister without portfolio for gross mismanagement.[23]

Although anti-Ershad sentiment was strong, H M Ershad contested the 1996 election from jail and still won all five different constituencies he had contested from in 1991[citation needed]. The new government led by the BNP's Khaleda Zia instituted a number of corruption charges. Ershad was convicted in two charges till date, while all others were dismissed and thrown out of court.

In the 1991 and 1996 elections, during when he was in jail, Ershad won from five different constituencies. In 1996 he provided his support to the Awami League and helped form a government of consensus although his party sat on the opposition side of the parliament.

He was released from jail on 9 January 1997 by the government, but only after he provided unconditional support to the Awami League. (?) In March 1998, he was approached by a renowned NY, USA based lobby group to get ready for next election. Somehow he ignored that opportunity and referred the lobby group to Brig. Gen. illias for further negotiation, thereby lost his opportunity to gain the optimum power to come back in the lime light during 2001 election. It is assumed, during 1998 till mid of 2001, he was guided by JP politicians with very little exposure of international lobbies that made him suffer till 1st quarter of 2013. In 2008 Ershad supported the Awami League in the December election. It was rumoured that the party had committed to making him president, but did not.

Political career since 1991[edit | edit source]

Ershad, is the only high profile politician to be convicted of corruption and serve a prison sentence. Legal complexities tend to prolong the investigation and settlement of the corruption cases against senior politicians in Bangladesh."We really don't know what will be the fate of these cases", lawyer Shahdeen Malik told the BBC.[24]

Ershad lost his membership in parliament owing to his conviction on charges of corruption when his relations with the ruling Awami League subsequently deteriorated. He switched his support to his one-time political adversary and main opposition leader, Khaleda Zia forming an anti-government coalition.[25][25] Thus the questionable court verdict followed.

Both Khaleda Zia of BNP and Sheikh Hasina of Awami League allied together to oust HM Ershad. Ironically both of these two top parties also allied with him and his Jatiya Party in time of their need to suit their purpose.[26][27]

H M Ershad called President Iajuddin Ahmed three times along with Kazi Zafar Ahmed twice on 23 December not to extend two days time for filing nominations for scheduled 22 January 2007 elections when Awami League and its allies decided to join that elections after long parley of Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury with Sheikh Hasina. However, for the sake of continuation of democratic process Chowdhury convinced all concerned that without both Awami League and BNP the election will not be credible. On 30 June 2007 Ershad stepped down temporarily from the post of Party chairman, indicating an end to his political career.[28] It is speculated that he stepped down under pressure as the Caretaker Government started a series of prosecution and arrest for corruption and criminal charges against political leaders of Awami League and BNP including Sheikh Hasina[29] Khaleda Zia[30][31] and her infamous son Tareq Rahman[32] among others.[33][34]

Arrest[edit | edit source]

On 1 March 1998, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh ruled that President Ershad's original arrest in 1990 by the caretaker government, led by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, was illegal.[22] This ruling would have permitted Ershad to sue the government for wrongful arrest. Ershad was convicted on a separate and unrelated charge eleven years after this arrest.

Charges and convictions[edit | edit source]

H M Ershad has been convicted and served time for only one case that has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the nation – Janata Tower Case. When his relations with the ruling Awami League subsequently deteriorated as he joined hands with the other main opposition BNP of Khaleda Zia. This is the only conviction that has been upheld by the country's Supreme Court till date.

He was found guilty in the Janata corruption case and was sentenced by the trial court to seven years imprisonment. Later the High Court Division affirmed the conviction but reduced the sentence to five years. The people were charged with building the Janata. It involved two charges – abuse of power in allotting land in Dhaka, which took place after Ershad colluded with M. M. Rahmat Ullah; and possessing unaccounted money. The Justice in his 91-page verdict found Ershad guilty under the Prevention Act.

Ershad was released on bail, on 9 April 2001 after serving four months in jail in Dhaka. He was sentenced in corruption case on 20 November 2000. As a result he could not contest the 2001 elections. There are still a few other pending cases against him but most has been thrown out of the court or cleared him of any wrongdoing. The most famous case that the BNP Government at the time falsely implicated him by was a gold smuggling case.[35] This was later thrown out by a Dhaka Court[36][37][38]

Return[edit | edit source]

On 8 April 2008, Ershad took charge of his Jatiya Party once again[39] In 2006 he protested against the controversial Election Commissioner (CEC) MA Aziz decisions on holding polls. He later joined the street movement along with Awami League.[40]

On 19 November 2008 Jatiya Party & Awami League agreed to contest the elections jointly under the Caretaker Government to be held on 29 December 2008. Out of the 300 Constituencies in the Parliament, Ershad's Jatiya Party contest from 49 (later 42 as Awami League did not pull back its candidates from few seats as agreed earlier) seats and Awami League and members of a leftist Fourteen Party Coalition from the rest 250 seats.[41] Thus the Grand Alliance (Mohajote in Bangla) emerged in Bangladesh.

Ershad contested the Bangladesh Parliamentary Election 2008 from three constituencies. According to Bangladesh electoral laws, a person is allowed to contest from three places, but can retain only one seat and two are to have by-elections after formation of government. These constituencies included his birthplace Rangpur (Rangpur-3 and Kurigram-2), and Dhaka-17, the capital's diplomatic zone, where he resides. He won all three seats in the election.

Ershad has been considered as an unpredictable character in Bangladesh politics. He joined 4 Party Alliance at the end of BNP term of 2001–06 after meetings with Tarique and Babar at his (Ershad) Residence, which was followed by meeting with Khaleda Zia at her (Zia) Cantonment's Mainul Road House. In late October 2006 he said he is not with 4 Party Alliance and the following day he reversed position. Later, he went to hiding for 3 days and joined Grand Alliance at Paltan Maidan with Sheikh Hasina. Sheikh Hasina breached agreement with him on to make him the President for at least six months. Moeen also committed to make him President before 11 January 2007. Ershad was offered to be head of the Government in 1991 by Sheikh Hasina while he was in jail and by Khaleda Zia in 1996 before Awami League formed Government after 21 years.[42] H M Ershad joined 4 Party alliance earlier also after 1996 elections and left later.

Ershad has been a pro-Indian element[43] and compromised with interest of Bangladesh.[44]

He appointed Bobby Hajjaz, eldest son of Musa Bin Shamsher,[45] most famous international arms dealer of Bangladesh, as his special adviser on 24 February 2013.[46]

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Ershad is married to Raushan Ershad, they have Shad Ershad. A woman named Mary Mumtaz filed a suit against Ershad in USA, seeking dissolution of marriage. She alleged that he had abandoned her, thereby asked for inter alia, an award for spousal maintenance and distribution of marital properties. However, as per USA constitution of Immunity from Prosecution for Head of State of a Friendly Nation[47] the proceedings did not follow. This alleged third marriage stays unconfirmed as the matter was not perused..

Ershad's daughter Mahajebin lives in London with her two children and husband. She has a MA in Graphics Design from London School of Art and a MA in Cultural Studies from London School of Economics. His eldest son Shad Ershad ran into legal complications when he was arrested for allegedly abducting a 14-year-old girl, later the girl's father has been quoted as saying she is mentally unstable.[48] Ershad claimed that this was a false accusation, made to discredit his party.[48] Ershad filed suit at High Court of Bangladesh challenging the arrest.

Shad Ershad is married to Mahima Ahmed (Armim).Armim is the grand daughter of Late M.R Khan who is the number one business tycoon in Bangladesh. And also 1 of the 21 business family's in Bangladesh. But like his parents Shad Ershad also can't save his marriage with Armim. After 1 years of their marriage they got divorced. Ershad has been linked by the media on different extra-marital affairs, which were on tabloids and newspapers in the country soon after his downfall which continued till 2006. His alleged affair with Zeenat Mosharraf, a member of parliament almost removed him from the chairmanship.[49]

His marriage with Bidisha ended in a bitter divorce and sedition charges brought by the then BNP Government against Bidisha.[50] H M Ershad divorced her for allegedly hiding her first marriage which still was not annulled at the time of their marriage.[51]

His wife and former first lady of Bangladesh Mrs. Raushan Ershad was also elected as a member of parliament thrice in the elections of 1991, 1996 and 2001. She contested the elections of 2008 from Ershad's Jatiya Party again but lost her seat in a controversial seat sharing deal against the party's ally Awami League.[52][53]

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External links[edit | edit source]

Political offices
Preceded by
Ahsanuddin Chowdhury
President of Bangladesh
1983–1990
Succeeded by
Shahabuddin Ahmed
Acting

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