The possible outcome of the graft cases against BNP chief Khaleda Zia has been overshadowing the controversies surrounding the new Election Commission (EC) and the upcoming 11th parliamentary election for quite a while now.
Tension is rising in the BNP camp regarding the likely verdicts on the Zia Charitable Trust and Zia Orphanage graft cases. Since the trial proceedings of both cases have reached their final phases, the concerns are at an all-time high. Although the cases are still in trial, BNP is already accusing the government of conspiracy against the BNP chief. As per their claim, the government has filed false cases against Khaleda in order to send her to jail so that she becomes ineligible to take part in the upcoming election. The party has threatened that if Khaleda is sent to jail, there will be no election. However, the senior Awami League leaders have brushed off BNP’s allegations and threat. The verdict is up to the court and but Khaleda’s absence will not halt the election, they said.
On July 3, 2008, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case against six including Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman at the Ramna Police Station. It alleged that the defendants had embezzled over BDT21 million from funds meant for the trust, which reportedly came from a foreign bank. ACC submitted the charge sheet to the court on August 5, 2009. On August 8, 2011, the anti corruption watchdog sued the BNP chief and three others for embezzling over BDT31.5 million from the Zia Charitable Trust. ACC deputy director Harunur Rashid, also an investigation officer of the case, pressed charges against the accused on January 16, 2012.
The discussions regarding the verdicts in the graft charges and their aftermath are no longer limited within Awami League and BNP camps. The entire political sphere of the country is buzzing with questions and speculations. Will Khaleda be punished? Will it affect her eligibility to participate in the next election? What will happen if Khaleda appeals to the High Court once found guilty? Will the High Court uphold the lower court’s decision, or suspend it? What will happen if the case stays pending in the High Court? These are some of the questions and speculations riling in the minds of political pundits and ordinary people. There are also speculations about the party’s next leadership in Khaleda’s absence. Her son Tarique Rahman, and two daughters-in-law are staying abroad, and her granddaughters are still underaged. In this scenario, who will take the helm of BNP is a hot topic of discussion in the political circuit. Party sources said that if Khaleda is indeed sent to jail, veteran leaders like barrister Moudud Ahmed, barrister Jamiruddin Sarkar, Tarikul Islam or Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain might take up the leadership role. If the general secretary Mirza Fakhrul is sent to jail, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi or Shamsuzzaman Dudu will assume his position.
The 66(1) act of Bangladesh’s constitution clearly states: “(1) A person shall subject to the provisions of clause(2), be qualified to be elected as, and to be, a member of Parliament if he is a citizen of Bangladesh and has attained the age of twenty-five years. (2) A person shall be disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of Parliament who (a) is declared by a competent court to be of unsound mind; (b) is an undischarged insolvent; (c) acquires the citizenship of, or affirms or acknowledges allegiance to, a foreign state; and (d) has been, on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.