Bangladesh is a modern creation which came out of the partition of India in 1947, prior to that the region had been divided amongst a series of ancient kingdoms.
The oldest traceable civilisation in modern day Bangladesh is the Pundra Kingdom from around 700 B.C. At that time Bangladesh was believed to have been split between a number of peoples including the Janapadas: Vanga, Pundra, and Suhma. By 323 B.C. the dominant force in the region was the Gangaridai Empire and reportedly they curtailed the invasion of Alexander the Great across what is now northern India; they remained a potent force until at least the 1st century A.D.
There then followed a period of which we have little knowledge but by the 6th Century the Gupta Empire ruled much of northern India but was eventually broken up into the Vanga Kingdom and the Gauda. They were followed by the Pala dynasty which was the first of the big Buddhist dynasties and covered a wide area into modern Afghanistan and into the south of India. Their trade stretched even further into most of South-East Asia and beyond and their rule lasted from around 750–1174 A.D.
The Sena Dynasty emerged in the 12th Century and Ballal Sena is noted for having introduced the caste system in Bengal. They were, however, relatively short-lived and had disappeared by the late 13th Century.
Although Islam had arrived in Bangladesh around the 9th Century it firmly took hold in the early 1200s when Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turk, overran Bihar and Bengal in 1204 AD.
A series of dynasties then controlled or influenced parts of what is now Bangladesh, but a major influence was the Mughals. They arrived sometime around the 1570s and they made Dhaka (the modern capital) the Mughal provincial capital.
Murshid Quli Khan brought the Mughal rule to an end in 1717 when he declared independence from the Mughals and there were then three successive Islamic dynasties; the Nasiri, Afshar and Najafi up to 1880 who ruled the region.
Although the Portuguese had arrived in the region in the late 15th Century, it was the British who gained a foothold through the British East India Company after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. It wasn’t until 1858 that control was passed from the East India Company to the crown and the Raj established itself with Bengal being just one of seventeen provinces in the Indian sub-continent.
From the late 19th Century through to the mid-20th Century an independence movement across the Viceroy of India gained strength. After the Second World War the British decided to withdraw from India and Viceroy Lord Mountbatten of Burma was given the task in 1947.
The Muslim League, which sought to carve out a Muslim state from within British India, grew in strength and after some violent sectarian strife the independent states of India and Pakistan were created with Pakistan being divided between East Pakistan (modern day Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (modern day Pakistan) although they were nearly 1,000 miles apart. The two halves of Pakistan were never going to work together and by 1958 it was in turmoil. Martial law was imposed between 1958 and 1962 and again between 1969 and 1971.
When the Awami League (AL) won all the seats in East Pakistan in the 1970 general election talks started about the division of power between the two Pakistans. The talks were unsuccessful and following student unrest and a military crackdown; on 26th March 1971 Bengali Army Major Ziaur Rahman declared the independence of Bangladesh and also declared himself to be temporary head of the new Republic.
Inevitably the Indians became involved and on 3rd December 1971 India intervened on the side of the Bangladeshis. On 16th December the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered and on 11th January 1972 the new country of Bangladesh came into existence with a parliamentary democracy.
The new country was blessed with a constitution that delivered a ceremonial presidency, an executive prime minister, a unicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of the Awami League, the father of the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, became the first president. He presided over a worsening economy and in late 1974, after declaring a state of emergency, established an executive presidency, a one-party system and curtailed the powers of the legislature.
By mid-1975 things had deteriorated and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family were assassinated on 15th August. His daughter Sheikh Hasina and another daughter were out of the country at the time and were barred from returning.
The military ruled from 1975 until 1990. There were several more military uprisings, but in 1977 Lieutenant General Ziaur Rahman took over the presidency and re-introduced multi-party politics and founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Zia’s rule came to an end when he was assassinated in 1981, leaving a widow, Khaleda Zia, who went on to lead the BNP and is today’s main opposition leader.
Zia was replaced by Lieutenant General Hossain Mohammad Ershad after a further coup d’état. Ershad was forced to resign in 1990 and the country saw a return to parliamentary rule with the 1991 general election which was won by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). In 1996 the BNP won again in the February but largely because the elections had been boycotted by the opposition.
Following months of strikes and demonstrations the parliament dissolved and fresh elections were held in June 1996 under a caretaker government; the Awami League won the election under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina who formed the new government.
The BNP went on to win the 2001 general election. In accordance with the constitution the BNP resigned in late October 2006 and a caretaker government was put in place. Despite civic unrest the caretaker government worked to meet the 90 day deadline to hold an election, but in early January the Awami League decided to boycott the election.
On 11th January 2007 the military stepped in and established a fresh caretaker government which then spent a year rooting out corruption, leading to the trial of more than 160 people. Fresh elections were called and in late 2008 the Awami League won the election taking 230 of the 300 seats.
Fresh elections were held on 5th January 2014 but only after months of strikes and demonstrations. In 2010 the Awami League, with their big majority, has abolished the concept of a caretaker government made up of technocrats to run the general election campaign. The BNP objected and started a campaign of civil disobedience. The elections of 2014 were boycotted by the BNP along with 20 other opposition parties and the Awami League was returned to power with 230 of the 300 seats in parliament. Their allies occupy all the remaining seats barring two seats and the BNP have sworn to bring the government down through a continuation of their civil disobedience.
The President is elected by the National Parliament for a five-year term and may serve a second term.
The National Parliament or Jatiya Snagsad is a unicameral assembly with 300 seats elected by popular vote from single constituencies. There are an additional 30 seats reserved for women. Members serve five year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Bangladesh at joint 145th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 26 (where 100 is least corrupt).