Khaleda Zia (Khaleda Khanam Putul born in 1945) is a Bangladeshi politician who served as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996, and again from 2001 to 2006. She was the first woman in the country's history and second in the Muslim majority countries (after Benazir Bhutto) to head a democratic government as prime minister. She was the First Lady of Bangladesh during the presidency of her husband Ziaur Rahman. She is the chairperson and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which was founded by Ziaur Rahman in the late 1970s.
Zia was born to Iskandar Majumder, a businessman, and Taiyaba Majumder as Khaleda Khanam in Dinajpur District in Bengal, British India (now in north-western Bangladesh). To her family, she is known simply as "Putul".
Zia claims 15 August as her birthday, which is a matter of controversy in Bangladesh politics. None of Zia's government issued identification documents show her birthday on 15 August. Her matriculation examination certificate lists a birth date of 9 August 1945. Her marriage certificate lists 5 September 1945. Zia's passport indicates a birth date of 19 August 1945. Kader Siddiqui, a political ally of Zia, urged her not to celebrate her birthday on 15 August. The High Court filed a petition against Zia on this issue.
She married Ziaur Rahman in 1960, an army officer who became the 7th President of Bangladesh in 1977. He ruled until 1981, when he was assassinated in a military coup.
When President Ziaur Rahman was killed, Justice Abdus Sattar became chairman of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Zia the vice-chairman. When Sattar was ousted from the presidency by the military coup of 1982, Zia was elected chairperson. She thus became head of the BNP, which her husband had founded in the late 1970s. She was active in opposing what she and her supporters considered the military autocracy of Ershad during the 1980s. During the autocratic rule of Hussain Muhammad Ershad the Bangladesh Nationalist Party formed a seven-party alliance. Zia was detained more than seven times because of her protests against Ershad.
A neutral caretaker government in Bangladesh oversaw elections on 27 February 1991 that were broadly considered[according to whom?] to be free, fair and truly democratic, following eight years of a military government.
BNP won 140 seats, 11 short of a majority. As it was the only party capable of forming a government, Zia was sworn in as the country's first female prime minister on 20 March with the support of a majority of the deputies in parliament.
The acting president Shahabuddin Ahmed granted Zia nearly all of the powers that were vested in the president at the time, effectively returning Bangladesh to a parliamentary system in September 1991. With a unanimous vote, the parliament passed the 12th amendment to the constitution in 1991. The BNP-led government formally restored the parliamentary system.
When the opposition boycotted the 15 February 1996 election, the BNP had a landslide victory in the sixth Jatiya Sangshad. Other major parties demanded that a neutral caretaker government be appointed to oversee the elections. The short-lived parliament hastily introduced the Caretaker Government by passing the 13th amendment to the Constitution. The parliament was dissolved to pave the way for parliamentary elections within 90 days.
In the 12 June 1996 elections, BNP lost to Sheikh Hasina's Awami League. Winning 116 seats, the BNP emerged as the largest opposition party in the country's parliamentary history.
The BNP formed a four-party alliance on 6 January 1999 to increase its chances to return to power in the next general elections. These included its former political foe the Jatiya Party, founded by President Ershad after he led a military government, and the Islamic parties of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and the Islami Oikya Jot. It encouraged protests against the ruling Awami League.
Many residents strongly criticized Zia and BNP for allying with Jamaat-e-Islami, which had opposed the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. The four-party alliance participated in the 1 October 2001 general elections, winning two-thirds of the seats in parliament and 46% of the vote (compared to the principal opposition party's 40%). Zia was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
She worked on a 100-day program to fulfill most of her election pledges to the nation. During this term, the share of domestic resources in economic development efforts grew. Bangladesh began to attract a higher level of international investment for development of the country's infrastructure, energy resources and businesses, including from the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. Restoration of law and order was an achievement during the period.
Zia promoted neighbourly relations in her foreign policy. In her "look-east policy," she worked to bolster regional cooperation in South Asia and adherence to the UN Charter of Human Rights. She negotiated settlement of international disputes, and renounced the use of force in international relations. Bangladesh began to participate in United Nations international peacekeeping efforts. In 2006, Forbes magazine featured her administration in a major story praising her achievements. Her government worked to educate young girls (nearly 70% of Bangladeshi women were illiterate) and distribute food to the poor (half of Bangladesh's 135 million people live below the poverty line). Her government promoted strong GDP growth (5%) based on economic reforms and support of an entrepreneurial culture.
When Zia became prime minister for the third time, the GDP growth rate of Bangladesh remained above 6 percent. The Bangladesh per capita national income rose to 482 dollars. Foreign exchange reserve of Bangladesh had crossed 3 billion dollars from the previous 1 billion dollars. The foreign direct investments of Bangladesh had risen to 2.5 billion dollars. The industrial sector of the GDP had exceeded 17 percent at the end of Zia's office.
End of term
On 29 October 2006, Zia's term in office ended. In accordance with the constitution, a caretaker government would manage in the 90-day interim before general elections. On the eve of the last day, rioting broke out on the streets of central Dhaka due to uncertainty over who would become Chief Advisor (head of the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh). Under the constitution, the immediate past Chief Justice was to be appointed. But, Chief Justice Khondokar Mahmud Hasan (K M Hasan) declined the position. President Iajuddin Ahmed, as provided for in the constitution, assumed power as Chief Advisor on 29 October 2006. He tried to arrange elections and bring all political parties to the table during months of violence; 40 people were killed and hundreds injured in the first month after the government's resignation in November 2006.
Officially on 26 December 2006, all political parties joined the planned 22 January 2007 elections. The Awami League pulled out at the last minute, and in January the military intervened to back the caretaker government for a longer interim period. It held power until holding general elections in December 2008.
After several movements in a period of severe political unrest between 2012-2014 to prevent the ruling party to hold the 10th general election in January 2014 without a neutral care taker government, Zia led BNP and its alliances boycotted the election. Violence was reported in polling day including bombing of polling centers which Zia was accused of ordering. In 2016 BNP announced its new National Standing Committee, in which she retained her position as BNP Chairperson.
On 8 February 2018, Zia was sentenced to prison for five years in a corruption case for embezzlement of international funds donated to Zia Orphanage Trust, filed during the 2006–08 caretaker government. Her party claimed that the verdict was politically biased. Zia was sent to the Dhaka Central Jail after the verdict. She was not able to contest in the general election of 2018 because the constitution of Bangladesh prohibits a convicted person sentenced to over two years from participating. Her son Tarique Rahman was sentenced to life imprisonment over a deadly 2004 attack at a political rally held for Sheikh Hasina.