After the decade of turbulence that followed the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971, Hussain Muhammad Ershad seized power that brought a degree of stability to one of the world’s most populous countries. His eight-year military dictatorship was at a cost of its young and fragile political institutions.
Ershad was ousted by a pro-democracy uprising in 1990 and served six-year in jail. But he continued to exert a baleful of influence on his country’s fledgling democracy, acting with varying degrees of success, as kingmaker as the two main parties spent the next two decades battling for ascendancy.
Hussain Muhammad Ershad was born in the Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, India. His father served as minister to the Maharajah of Cooch Behar. The family migrated to Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), in 1947, and settled in Rangpur. He earned a degree from the University of Dhaka, was commissioned into the Pakistani army in 1952, and rose through the ranks to command the 7th East Bengal Regiment.
Ershad joined Bangladesh army. In 1978 he was appointed chief of army staff and became a close advisor to President Ziaur Rahman. In 1982 he led a bloodless coup, issuing decree that forced the president to resign. He suspended the constitution and imposed martial law. In 1983 he proclaimed himself president, a post he would hold for the next seven years. Ershad observed the trappings of democracy by forming his own party – the Jatiya (National) Party and claimed victory in presidential and parliamentary elections in 1986 and 1988, although they were rigged and sometimes boycotted by the opposition. Ershad built highways, privatised industries and presided over a carefully controlled decentralisation of power to local administration known as “upazilas”. He liked to travel through the poorest areas of his country distributing banknotes. In 1990, the two opposition parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party came together to organise series of strikes. Ershad was forced to resign after weeks of escalating violence and was placed under house arrest. Ershad was charged with offences ranging from corruption to supporting a military coup. He was sentenced to ten years. He remained politically active, winning successive elections to parliament from his home town despite being behind the bars. Ershad was released on bail in 1997 after throwing his support behind the Awami League, which had formed a government six months earlier. He was convicted again in 2000 and continued to face charges for the rest of his life.
Compiled by:M. Nauman Khan / Ghulam Mohiuddin