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Conviction of Bangladesh’s opposition leader leaves leadership void

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Conviction of Bangladesh’s opposition leader leaves leadership void

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Photo: Reuters

Today, protests demanding the release of Bangladeshi opposition leader Khaleda Zia are expected in the Bengali capital of Dhaka.

The two-time prime minister and head of the centre-right Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was convicted on corruption charges two weeks ago. Sentenced to five years in prison, Ms Zia continues to claim that her arrest and trial were politically motivated by PM Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL). News of the verdict prompted a mix of nonviolent and violent protests among BNP protestors, counter-protestors and police.

The future of the BNP remains uncertain. While Ms Zia is expected to appeal her conviction, her son, Tarique Rahman—who fled the country in 2008 and has since resided in London—has been found guilty of “involvement” and a slew of conspiracy related charges.

With two major party leaders effectively removed from the political playing field and PM Hasina’s government very unlikely to pardon Zia, a leadership vacuum has opened in the BNP. However, to what extent the AL will capitalise on the opposition’s leadership absence is under serious question, as the AL too suffers from corruption allegations and holds a relatively poor legislative track record.

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