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Khaleda Zia (IPA: kʰaled̪a dʒia; born Khaleda Khanam Putul[1][2] in 1945) is a Bangladeshi politician who served as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996, and again from 2001 to 2006.[3] 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 current chairperson and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which was founded by Rahman in the late 1970s.

Khaleda Zia
খালেদা জিয়া
Begum Zia Book-opening Ceremony, 1 Mar, 2010.jpg
Begum Zia in 2010
9th Prime Minister of Bangladesh
In office
10 October 2001 – 29 October 2006
PresidentShahabuddin Ahmed
Badruddoza Chowdhury
Iajuddin Ahmed
Preceded byLatifur Rahman (Acting)
Succeeded byIajuddin Ahmed (Acting)
In office
20 March 1991 – 30 March 1996
PresidentShahabuddin Ahmed (Acting)
Abdur Rahman Biswas
Preceded byKazi Zafar Ahmed
Succeeded byMuhammad Habibur Rahman (Acting)
Leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party
Assumed office
30 May 1984
Preceded byAbdus Sattar
Leader of the Opposition
In office
29 December 2008 – 9 January 2014
Preceded bySheikh Hasina
Succeeded byRowshan Ershad
In office
23 June 1996 – 15 July 2001
Preceded bySheikh Hasina
Succeeded bySheikh Hasina
First Lady of Bangladesh
In office
21 August 1977 – 30 May 1981
PresidentZiaur Rahman
Preceded bySheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib
Succeeded byRowshan Ershad
Personal details
Khaleda Khanam Putul

Jalpaiguri, Bengal Presidency, British India
Political partyBangladesh Nationalist Party (1979–present)
Other political
Four Party Alliance (2001–2011)
18 Party Alliance (2011–2018)
Jatiya Oikya Front (2018-present)
Ziaur Rahman (m. 1960–1981)

After a military coup in 1982, led by Army Chief General H M Ershad, Zia helped lead the continuing movement for democracy until the fall of military dictator Ershad in 1990. She became prime minister following the victory of the BNP in the 1991 general election. She also served briefly in the short-lived government in 1996, when other parties had boycotted the first election. In the next round of general elections of 1996, the Awami League came to power. 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.

In its list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World, Forbes magazine ranked Zia at number 14 in 2004,[4] number 29 in 2005,[5] and number 33 in 2006.[6]

Following her government's term end in 2006, the scheduled January 2007 elections were delayed due to political violence and in-fighting, resulting in a bloodless military takeover of the caretaker government. During its interim rule, it charged Zia and her two sons with corruption.[7][8][9]

For the better part of the last two decades, Zia's chief rival has been Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina. The two women have alternated as non-interim prime ministers since 1991.[10]

In February 2018, Zia was jailed for 5 years for the Zia Charitable Trust corruption case which was raised to 10 years in October.[11] She was found guilty of embezzling the funds for the orphanage trust set up when she was serving as the prime minister.[12]


Personal life and familyEdit

Early life and educationEdit

Khaleda Khanam "Putul"[13] was born in 1945 in Jalpaiguri in the then undivided Dinajpur District[note 1] in Bengal Presidency, British India (now in Jalpaiguri District, India).[3][14] She was the third of five children.[15] Her father, Iskandar Majumder, a tea-businessman, was from Fulgazi in Noakhali District (now in Feni District).[15] Her mother, Taiyaba Majumder (1920–2007), was from Chandbari (now in Uttar Dinajpur District).[16][15] After the partition of India in 1947, they migrated to Dinajpur town (now in Bangladesh).[3] Khanam first attended Dinajpur Missionary School and later completed her matriculation from Dinajpur Girls' School in 1960.[3] In the same year, she married Ziaur Rahman, then a captain in the Pakistan Army.[17] She then used the name "Khaleda Zia" or "Begum Khaleda Zia".[citation needed] Zia then studied at Dinajpur Surendranath College until 1965 when she went to West Pakistan to stay with her husband.[3] In March 1969, they moved from Karachi to Dhaka.[15] Following Rahman's posting, the family then moved to Sholoshohor area in Chittagong.[15]


Zia with husband Ziaur Rahman in 1979
Zia in 1979

Zia's first son, Tarique Rahman (b. 1967), got involved into politics and went on to become the acting chairman of Bangladesh Nationalist Party.[18] Her second son, Arafat Rahman "Koko" (b. 1969), died of a cardiac arrest in 2015.[19] Zia's sister, Khurshid Jahan (1939–2006) served as the Minister of Women and Children Affairs during 2001–2006.[20] Her younger brother, Sayeed Iskander (1953–2012), was also a politician who served as a Jatiya Sangsad member from the Feni-1 constituency during 2001–2006.[21] Her second brother, Shamim Iskandar, is a retired flight engineer of Bangladesh Biman.[22][23] Her second sister is Selina Islam.[24]

Political careerEdit

On 30 May 1981, Zia's husband, the-then President of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated.[25] After his death, she got involved into politics and took charge of the vice-president position of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) - the party which was founded by Rahman. After justice Abdus Sattar was ousted from the presidency by the 1982 military coup, Zia replaced him as the chairperson of the party on 10 May 1984.[3] Under her leadership, BNP formed a 7-party alliance in 1983 during the rule of Hussain Muhammad Ershad.[3] She was detained more than seven times during that time.[3]

Prime MinisterEdit

First termEdit

Zia with US President Bill Clinton.

A neutral caretaker government in Bangladesh oversaw elections on 27 February 1991[26] following eight years of Hussain Muhammad Ershad presidency. BNP won 140 seats - 11 short of simple majority.[26][27] Zia was sworn in as the country's first female prime minister on 20 March 1991 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 an unanimous vote, the parliament passed the 12th amendment to the constitution in 1991.

Second termEdit

When the opposition boycotted the 15 February 1996 election, the BNP had a landslide victory in the sixth Jatiya Sangshad.[28] 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,[28] BNP emerged as the largest opposition party in the country's parliamentary history.

Third termEdit

Zia with the President of Brazil, Lula da Silva (2004)
Zia with the Leader of Opposition Shri L.K. Advani in New Delhi (2006)

The BNP formed a four-party alliance[29] 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[according to whom?] strongly criticized Zia and BNP for allying with Jamaat-e-Islami,[30] 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 programme 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.[3]

After the term endEdit

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.[31][32][33][34] President Iajuddin Ahmed, as provided for in the constitution, assumed power as Chief Advisor on 29 October 2006.[35] 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.

Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury, the presidential advisor, met with Zia and Sheikh Hasina, and other political parties to try to resolve issues and schedule elections. Negotiations continued against a backdrop of political bickering, protests and polarisation that threatened the economy.[36][37] 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.

Post-premiership (since 2007)Edit

During the 2007—2008 caretaker governmentEdit

Former Bangladesh Bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed became the Chief Adviser to the interim caretaker government on 12 January 2007. In March, Zia's eldest son, Tareque Rahman, was arrested for corruption. Enforcing the suppression of political activity under the state of emergency, from 9 April, the government barred politicians from visiting Zia's residence.[38] Her other son, Arafat Rahman (Coco), was arrested for corruption on 16 April.[7] On 17 April, The Daily Star reported that Zia had agreed to go into exile with Arafat.[39] Her family said, the Saudi Arabian government reportedly declined to allow her into the kingdom - apparently because "it was reluctant to take in an unwilling guest".[40] Based on an appeal, on 22 April the High Court issued a ruling for the government to explain that she was not confined to her house. On 25 April, the government lifted restrictions on both Zia and Sheikh Hasina.[40] On 7 May, the High Court ordered the government to explain continuing restrictions on Zia.[41]

On 17 July, the Anti Corruption Commission Bangladesh (ACC) sent notices to both Zia and Hasina, requesting that details of their assets be submitted to the commission within one week.[42] Zia was asked to appear in court on 27 September in connection with a case for not submitting service returns for Daily Dinkal Publications Limited for years.[43] On 2 September, the government filed charges of corruption against Zia related to the awarding of contracts to Global Agro Trade Company in 2003.[8] She was arrested on 3 September.[44][9] She was detained in a makeshift prison on the parliament building premises.[45] On the same day, Zia expelled her party Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Joint Secretary General Whip Ashraf Hossain for breaching party discipline.[46]

BNP standing committee members chose former Minister of Finance Saifur Rahman and former Minister of Water Resources Hafizuddin Ahmed to lead the party. Bangladesh Election Commission subsequently invited Hafizuddin's faction, rather than Zia's, to participate in talks, effectively recognizing the former as the legitimate BNP. Zia challenged this in court, but her appeal was rejected on 10 April 2008.[47]

Zia was released on bail on 11 September 2008 from her yearlong detention.[48]

In December 2008, the caretaker government organized general elections where Zia's party lost to the Awami League and its Grand Alliance (with 13 smaller parties) which took a two-thirds majority of seats in the parliament. Sheikh Hasina became the prime minister, and her party formed government in early 2009. Zia became the opposition leader of the parliament.[citation needed]

Eviction from the cantonment houseEdit

Zia's family had been living in the official residence in the Dhaka Cantonment, since her husband, Ziaur Rahman, was appointed as the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCS) of the Bangladesh Army. After he became the President of Bangladesh, he kept the house as his residence. Following his assassination in 1981, the acting President Abdus Sattar, leased the house "for life" to Zia, for a nominal 101. When the army took over the government in 1983, Hussain Mohammad Ershad confirmed this arrangement. In November 2010, the Awami League government enforced existing law to reclaim the house where Zia had lived for nearly 40 years for a nominal cost. Zia then moved to the house of her brother, Sayeed Iskandar, at the Gulshan neighborhood.[49]

Secretary Kerry greets Zia at the U.S. Embassy Dhaka (2016)

Boycotting 2014 electionEdit

British Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham meeting Zia (2011)

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.[50][51] In May 2017, she revealed BNP's vision 2030 to gain public support for the next general elections.[52] However the ruling Awami League government denounced Vision 2030 as an act of plagiarism of Awami League's Vision 2021 which they used in the ninth general election, and claimed most of the targets in the Visions were fulfilled by Awami League, thus declaring BNP's Vision 2030 as unoriginal. This renewed tensions between BNP and Awami League. In 2017 the police conducted a raid on Zia's house as per government orders, which BNP heavily protested and claimed the government was carrying out autocratic actions.[53]

Imprisonment in 2018Edit

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.[12] Her party claimed that the verdict was politically biased.[54] Zia was sent to the Dhaka Central Jail after the verdict.[55] In October, the High Court raised her jail term to 10 years after ACC pleaded for a revision.[11] She is imprisoned as the sole inmate at the Old Dhaka Central Jail.[56][57]

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.[58]

Foreign visitsEdit

Talks in China related to trade and prospective Chinese investment in Bangladesh,[61] 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.[60][62] The BNP announced that the Chinese funding for a second Padma Bridge was confirmed during her visit.[63][64]

Zia's India visit was considered notable as BNP had been considered to have been anti-India compared to its rival Awami League.[66] At her meeting with Prime Minister Singh, Zia said her party wanted to work with India for mutual benefit, including the fight against extremism.[67] Indian officials announced they had come to agreement with her to pursue a common geopolitical doctrine in the greater region to discourage terrorists.[68]

Birthday controversyEdit

Zia claims 15 August as her birthday, which is a matter of controversy in Bangladesh politics.[69][70] 15 August is the day many immediate family members of Zia's political rival, Sheikh Hasina, including her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were killed. As a result of the deaths, 15 August is officially declared National Mourning Day of Bangladesh.[69][71][72] None of Zia's government issued identification documents show her birthday on 15 August.[71][73] 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.[71][73] Kader Siddiqui, a political ally of Zia, urged her not to celebrate her birthday on 15 August.[70] The High Court filed a petition against Zia on this issue.[74][75]

Awards and honoursEdit

  • On 24 May 2011, the New Jersey State Senate honoured Zia as a "Fighter for Democracy". It was the first time the state Senate had so honoured any foreign leader and reflects the state's increasing population of immigrants and descendants from South Asia.[76][77]



  1. ^ In 1947, Dinajpur district was split into West Dinajpur District in India and Dinajpur District in the then East Bengal.


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External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Kazi Zafar Ahmed
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
Succeeded by
Muhammad Habibur Rahman
Preceded by
Latifur Rahman
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
Succeeded by
Iajuddin Ahmed
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Ranasinghe Premadasa
Chairperson of SAARC
Succeeded by
P V Narasimha Rao
Preceded by
Zafarullah Khan Jamali
Chairperson of SAARC
Succeeded by
Manmohan Singh