Hussain Muhammad Ershad
Hussein Muhammad Ershad) born (February 1, 1930) is a Bangladeshi politician who previously served as Chief of Army Staff of Bangladesh Army and later as CMLA 1982 -1986. His rise to the Presidency was in the exact same manner of his predecessor Major General Ziaur Rahman; H M Ershad being elected President of Bangladesh 1986 – 1991. He is a United Nations Laureateand won the parliamentary
elections three times after being toppled from the presidency. Although commonly termed as an autocratic military dictator his popularity remained; even when in prison awaiting trial, Ershad won the Parliamentary Elections from five different constituencies twice – in the elections of 1991 & 1996. In 2009 he formed a “Grand Alliance” against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party‘s (BNP) Four-Party Alliance and became the first Bangladeshi politician to apologize publicly for all wrong doings of the past and asked for forgiveness. The Grand Alliance (Mohajote) won the elections in December 2008 and HM Ershad became a Member of Parliament once again.
Despite of all the ethical dilemma and corruption surrounding him, Hussain Muhammad Ershad did manage to leave behind a legacy of developments in infrastructure, socio-economic growth and brought stability to Bangladesh’s Armed Forces. The former Chief of Army Staff & President, Lieutenant General Hussain Muhammad Ershad is currently a Member of Parliament & 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
Hussain Muhammad Ershad was born in Rangpur in 1930. He graduated from the University of Dhaka in 1950 and was commissioned into the Pakistan Army in 1952. Between he was an adjutant in the East Bengal regimental depot in Chittagong. He also completed advanced courses from the prestigious 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. During the Bangladesh Liberation War, he was interned along with other Bengali officers stationed in West Pakistan as a Prisoner of War at the outbreak of the 1971 Liberation War and repatriated to Bangladesh in 1973 in accordance with the Simla Agreement between India’s Indira Gandhi and Pakistan’s Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. He arrived back to his homeland – the new state of Bangladesh in 1973, and was appointed Adjutant General of the Bangladesh Army by Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. After attending advanced military courses in India, Ershad was appointed Deputy chief of army Staff in 1975 by Major General Ziaur Rahman when Zia became the Deputy CMLA following Justice Sayem’s elevation to the presidency on November 19, 1976.
Ershad remained loyal to Ziaur Rahman, Major General Zia had been appointed Army Chief by President Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founding leader, on 15 August 1975 as the country headed towarrds communism banning multiparty rule by Sk Mujibur Rahman. Although Major General Zia was overthrown in a counter-coup on November 3, he was restored to power in a coup led by Col. Abu Taher on November 7. When Ziaur Rahman assumed the presidency after legalizing military coups and the revival of the multiparty system through the Fifth Amendment of the Bangladesh Constitution he appointed HM Ershad as the new Chief of Army Staff, promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant General. Viewed as a professional soldier with no political aspiration because of his imprisonment during the Independence War in former West Pakistan and having a talent for Bengali speech writing, he soon became the closest politico-military counselor of Major General Ziaur Rahman.
Presidential Oath Taking Ceremony after 1986 elections, the Chief Justice and Military Secretary (1984-1989) Brigadier General ABM Elias is also seen after the assassination of Ziaur Rahman on 30 May 1981, Ershad remained loyal to the government and ordered the army to suppress the coup attempt of Zia’s associates led by Major General Abul Manzoor. It is widely speculated that Monjur was used as a scapegoat and Ershad himself was behind the liquidation of President Zia; although never proven in any court of law, even when Zia’s widow was in power in 1991-1996 and again in 2001-2006. Ershad maintained loyalty to the new president Abdus Sattar, who led the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to victory in elections in 1982. Ershad even alloted a two houses to Mrs. Khaleda Zia & her two sons, one of in Dhaka Cantonment where Ziaur Rahman‘s family still resides, and became a centre point of controversy later on.
However the BNP government was not doing well and pressure increased from high-ranking army commanders for the military to take over the reins of state. Ershad came to power in a bloodless coup on 24 March 1982 and proclaimed himself Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), President Sattar replaced. He took over as president on 11 December 1983 by replacing A. F. M. Ahsanuddin Chowdhury.
SAARC Summit 1986, Dhaka Bangabhaban; HM Ershad, Rajiv Gandhi, Ziaul Huq among other Head of States
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. Significant achievement was that be brought leaders of arch rivals – India and Pakistan, Rajiv Gandhi and Ziaul Haque respectively.
As president, Ershad included amendments into the constitution of Bangladesh which declared Islam the state religion, abandoning state secularism. To improve rural administration, Ershad introduced the Upazila and Zila Parishad system and held the ‘first democratic elections for these village councils’ in 1985. In an election held in 1986, Ershad was nominated by the Jatiya party, which had been created by him and his supporters. One of the major political parties BNP founded by his predecessor CMLA & later elected President Major General Ziaur Rahman led by his widow Khaleda Zia boycotted the elections; however the other major party Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina participated in Bangladeshi general election, 1986. The Jatiya Party led by HM Ershad won the elctions winning majority in the Jatiyo Sangshad. In 1987 Bangladesh’s Land Ministry launched the ‘Land Reforms Action Program’, an initiative to distribute khas – unoccupied state-owned land – to landless families. A novel element of the land reform was the establishment by the Ministry of Land.
Ershad’s regime is often seen as the longest autocratic rule in Bangladesh. Although there were two general elections, they were widely criticized by the opposition parties – BNP boycotted the election on 1986 but that election gained legitimacy as the other major opposition party Awami League founded by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Jamaat-e-Islami which was resurrected by President Ziaur Rahman also participated the elections.
However both BNP and Awami League boycotted the elections of 1988. There were some reports of violence, human rights abuse and corruption during his tenure, which, however, still is a common practice by any government in power in Bangladesh and simply multiplied. It should be noted that Transparency International branded Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world for the first time during the tenure of Awami League (1996 to 2001) and never went off the number one spot till the fall of BNP (2001 to 2006).
He was awarded as a United Nation’s Laureate twice during his presidency, from the United Nations.
- In recognition of outstanding contributions to increasing the awareness of population questions and to their solution Ershad was awarded UN Population Award in 1987 by the General Assembly.
- He campaigned for early conclusion of an international convention on protection and conservation of climate. He also proposed a worldwide fund to help developing countries stop environmental degradation; for which he was awarded the UN Environment Award in 1988
The Jamuna Bridge
During Ershad’s rule, the construction of the Jamuna Bridge connecting the country’s north and south together was started. The Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge Authority (JMBA) was set up by an ordinance promulgated by the President on July 3, 1985 to implement the project. For mobilisation of domestic resources, another ordinance was promulgated by which a Jamuna Bridge surcharge and levy were introduced. A total of Tk 5.08 billion was mobilised in the process till its abolition.
H M Ershad stabilized the Bangladesh Armed Forces which was facing a series of Coups and counter Coups ever since its emergence as a nation in 1971. The South Asian Multidisciplinary Academic Journal documents the Bangladesh Army’s history regarding this. The Bangladesh Armed Forces did not attempt any coups since Ershad’s takeover in 1982 till the fall of BNP government in 1996. The Awami League in alliance with Jatiya Party won Bangladeshi general election, June 1996.
During Ershad’s tenure as President of Bangladesh elected in 1986, the Bangladesh Army started its participation in the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in 1988 for the very first time The particiaption of Bangladesh Armed Forces in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations initiated by Ershad turned out to be one of the highest sources of foreign currency earners today.
He was the first leader in history to sign a death sentence for throwing acid on women. In the early eighties 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 anyone 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. Anyone who voluntarily cripples a child or any one is given a death sentence. This also led to a dramatic decline in crippling children 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 transportation on the Bangladesh Borders. He launched a wide spread campaign against use of Illicit drugs and opening of drug rehabilitation centre in Bangladesh.
The Land Reforms Ordinance of 1984 granted important rights to tenants for the first time in the history of Bangladesh, and a new plan for the divestment of government industries promised to move the country away from socialism.