Bangladesh Awami League

Published 20th January, 2014

The Bangladesh Awami League or AL was founded in 1949 as the Awami Muslim League and as a left-wing equivalent to the right-wing Muslim League after the 1947 partition. They describe themselves as Left-wing and believe in Democratic socialism, Bengali nationalism and Secularism.

The party formed a coalition government between 1956 and 1958 but had been part of the United Front coalition government of 1954. Many of the party leaders were arrested when martial law was imposed in 1958 and the party was not to be in government again until 1972. Nevertheless the party was involved in the struggle for independence from West Pakistan and in the first general elections in the new republic the Awami League (it changed its name in 1971) the party won 293 of the 300 seats.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the Awami League and 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.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was overthrown and killed, along with most of his family, by the military in August 1975 and the Awami League was temporarily banned. They returned in 1978 under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina as part of the Democratic United Front and backed General Mohammed Ataul Ghani Osmani in the election of that year.

In the 1979 general election the party won 54 of the 300 seats in parliament. Following a further seizure of power in March 1983 the party joined the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and others in creating the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). The MRD achieved a partial resumption of legal party democracy in 1986 and the Awami League won 76 of the 300 seats in parliament.

However, democracy had not been restored and an alternative ‘people’s parliament’ was established with Sheikh Hasina as leader. The AL went on to lead a series of mass demonstrations and strikes from 1987 until October 1990. They boycotted the general election of 1988 as did most other parties and in 1990 President Lieutenant General Hossain Mohammad Ershad resigned.

Fresh multi-party and democratic elections were held in February 1991 but the AL lost out to the BNP, managing to take only 88 of the 300 seats in the Jatiyo Sangshad or National Parliament.

In May 1994 the AL decided to boycott parliament and started fresh strikes and demonstrations in an attempt to bring down the BNP government. Elections held in February 1996 were boycotted by the Awami League but when fresh elections were called in the June of the same year the AL won 146 of the 300 seats and Sheikh Hasina formed a coalition government.

In 1998 the BNP walked out of parliament and started its own series of strikes and demonstrations to bring down the government. In fresh elections held in 2001 the BNP won 193 seats and the AL was reduced to 63 seats.

By now the political rhetoric between Sheikh Hasina and her BNP counterpart Khaleda Zia had become bitter. The BNP leader was accused of being behind an assassination attempt of Sheikh Hasina in August 2004.

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. Fresh elections were called and in late 2008 the Awami League won the election taking 230 of the 300 seats.

A general election was held on 5th January 2014 but only after months of strikes and demonstrations. In 2010 the Awami League, with their big majority, had 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.

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