Bail Granted to Former Bangladesh Prime Minister

The former prime minister of Bangladesh, Begum Khaleda Zia, was granted bail Tuesday by the country's high court.  Her release from prison will clear the way for Bangladesh's two largest political parties to participate in national elections planned for December.  VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from our South Asia Bureau in New Delhi.

After more than a year in custody, former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been granted bail.  The high court action comes nearly three months after her political rival, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was released from jail on parole for medical treatment.

The two women head the largest political parties in Bangladesh.  Their freedom has been considered the prerequisite by their supporters for the parties to participate in elections expected to be held before the end of the year.  It is hoped the vote will restore democratic governance to one of Asia's poorest countries.

The former prime ministers were jailed on corruption charges by the military-backed interim government. 

Leaders of the emergency government had hoped to neutralize the two matriarchs, as part of its sweeping drive to rid the country of political graft.  But analysts say it became evident this year that fair and peaceful elections would not be possible without the release of Khaleda of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Hasina of the rival Awami League.

The secretary general of the BNP, Khondkar Delwar Hossain, tells VOA News more still needs to be done by the caretaker government, for there to be free and fair elections.

"They must lift the [state of] emergency and announce the schedule of the election.  During emergency, no fair election can be held," said Hossain.

Khaleda became the country's first female prime minister in 1991, a decade after the assassination of her husband.  President Ziaur Rahman was gunned down during a coup attempt.

Hasina is the daughter of the Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, the slain founding president of Bangladesh.  She leads the Awami League and was prime minister for five years, beginning in 1996.

Following feuding between the two main parties that threatened to plunge Bangladesh into anarchy, the military put into place an interim administration, in January, 2007.  That government launched a massive anti-corruption drive, arresting 170 political figures, including the two former prime ministers.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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