Begum Khaleda Zia (Bengali: খালেদা জিয়া; born 15 August 1945) is a Bangladeshi politician who was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006. When she took office in 1991, she was the first woman in the country's history and second in the Muslim world (after Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan in 1988–1990) to head a democratic government as prime minister. She is the chairperson and leader of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which was founded by her late husband President Ziaur Rahman in late 1970s.
After a military coup in 1982, led by Army Chief General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, Khaleda Zia helped lead the continuing movement for democracy until the fall of military dictator Ershad in 1990. Khaleda became prime minister following the victory of the BNP in 1991 general election. She also served briefly in the short-lived government in 1996. Her party came to power again in 2001. She has been elected to five separate parliamentary constituencies in the general elections of 1991, 1996 and 2001.
Forbes magazine ranked Begum Khaleda Zia at number 14 in 2004, number 29 in 2005 and number 33 in 2006 in its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World.
Begum Khaleda Zia was born to father Iskandar Majumder, a businessman, and mother Taiyaba Majumder on August, 1945 Dinajpur District in north-western Bangladesh. Khaleda Zia married Ziaur Rahman in 1960, an Army officer who became president in 1977, following the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first prime minister of Bangladesh. He ruled until 1981, when he was assassinated in a military coup.
At the time, Zia and his family were living in a large house in the Dhaka Cantonment, which was first built as the residence of the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCS) of the Bangladesh Army. When Ziaur Rahman was appointed DCS Major General, he and his family moved there. After he became President of Bangladesh, he kept the house as his residence. Following his assassination in 1981, the Acting President Justice, Abdus Sattar, leased the house "for life" to Khaleda Zia, for ৳101. When the Army took over the government, Lieutenant General Hussain Mohammad Ershad, Army Chief of Bangladesh and Chief Martial Law Administrator, confirmed this arrangement in 1982. After the BNP came to power in democratic elections in 1991, it did not disturb the arrangement.
A neutral caretaker government in Bangladesh oversaw elections on 27 February 1991 that were broadly considered to be free, fair and truly democratic, following eight years of a military government.
The BNP won 140 seats, 11 short of a majority. As it was the only party capable of forming a government, Khaleda 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 Khaleda 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, Parliament passed the 12th amendment to the Constitution in 1991. The BNP-led government formally restored the parliamentary system.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won the 15 February 1996 election. It was a landslide victory for BNP in the sixth Jatiya Sangshad. But it was last long very few days since the other major parties demanded that a neutral caretaker government be appointed to oversee the elections. BNP responded to their demand. Then 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.
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.
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%). Khaleda 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.
Khaleda Zia promoted neighborly 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.
Saudi Arabia: Begum Khaleda Zia made some high-profile foreign visits in the later part of 2012. Invited to Saudi Arabia in August by the royal family, she met with the Saudi crown prince and defence minister Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to talk about bilateral ties. She tried to promote better access for Bangladeshi migrant workers to the Saudi labour market, which was in decline at the time.
People's Republic of China: She went to People’s Republic of China in October, at the invitation of the government. She met with Chinese leaders including Vice President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China’s international affairs chief Wang Jiarui. Jinping is set to begin taking over as China’s Paramount Leader by the end of 2012.
Talks in China related to trade and prospective Chinese investment in Bangladesh,particularly the issue of financing Padma Bridge. At the beginning of 2012, the World Bank, a major prospective financier, had withdrawn, accusing government ministers of graft.The BNP announced that the Chinese funding for a second Padma Bridge was confirmed during her visit.
India: On 28 October 2012, Khaleda Zia visited India to meet with President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a number of officials including foreign minister Salman Khurshid, national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai and BJP leader and leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj. Talks were scheduled to cover bilateral trade and regional security.
Khaleda Zia’s India visit was considered notable as BNP had been considered to have been anti-India compared to its rival Awami League. At her meeting with Prime Minister Singh, Zia said her party wanted to work with India for mutual benefit, including the fight against extremism. Indian officials announced they had come to agreement with her to pursue a common geopolitical doctrine in the greater region to discourage terrorists.
Awards and Honors
On 24 May 2011, the New Jersey State Senate honored Begum Khaleda Zia as a "Fighter for Democracy". It was the first time the state Senate had so honored any foreign leader and reflects the state's increasing population of immigrants and descendants from South Asia.