It is unfortunate that Khaleda Zia, one of the two women who have dominated the political scene in Bangladesh since the early ’90s, has been jailed for five years. The timing of her conviction on the charge of corruption has attracted a lot of attention, especially because it comes some months before the country is to hold parliamentary elections. Notwithstanding the long-running feud between Khaleda and her political rival Shaikh Hasina Wajed that has been spread over a couple of decades, Bangladesh could certainly have done without the turmoil triggered by Zia’s jailing and conviction. Clashes broke out in the streets of Dhaka between her supporters and the law enforcement agencies when teargas shells were fired to disperse the crowd outside the court.
To be fair to the Hasina-led administration, the case against Khaleda has been swirling around for nearly a decade. The former prime minister was implicated along with her son and four others in the graft case for siphoning foreign donations to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars from an orphanage trust. At the moment it probably suits Khaleda Zia to paint her trial and subsequent sentencing and conviction as political victimisation. Such theatrics can boost the electoral chances of her party — the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. She will not however be able to reap any personal benefits. It is looking increasingly likely that Khaleda Zia will be barred from the upcomimg election — though she is pleading for bail and will probably appeal the court verdict against her.
By government accounts at least it appears that Khaleda Zia got off lightly. The judges hearing the case made a pointed reference to her age and her stature while announcing the verdict. Dhaka needs to safely navigate its way out of the crisis, defuse the unrest and conduct polls as soon as it can.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2018.