Hussain Muhammad Ershad

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Hussain Muhammad Ershad
হুসেইন মুহাম্মদ এরশাদ
Hussain M. Ershad - 2.JPG
Ershad in 2012
Member of the Jatiyo Sangshad from Rangpur-3
Assumed office
27 February 1991
Preceded byMohammad Mofazzal Hossain
10th President of Bangladesh
In office
11 December 1983 – 6 December 1990
Prime MinisterAtaur Rahman Khan
Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury
Moudud Ahmed
Kazi Zafar Ahmed
Vice PresidentA K M Nurul Islam
Moudud Ahmed
Shahabuddin Ahmed
Preceded byAFM Ahsanuddin Chowdhury
Succeeded byShahabuddin Ahmed
Chief of Army Staff
In office
1 December 1978[1] – 30 August 1986
PresidentZiaur Rahman
Preceded byZiaur Rahman
Succeeded byAtiqur Rahman
Personal details
Born (1930-02-01) 1 February 1930 (age 88)
Dinhata, Bengal Presidency, British India
(now in West Bengal, India)
Political partyJatiya Party (E)
Spouse(s)Rowshan Ershad
Alma materPakistan Military Academy
University of Dhaka
Command and Staff College
ProfessionMilitary officer, politician
AwardsUN Population Award
UN Environment Award
Global Officials of Dignity Award
Military service
Allegiance Pakistan (before 1971)
Service/branch Pakistan Army
 Bangladesh Army
Years of service1952–1971 (Pakistan)
1973–1986 (Bangladesh)
RankLt. General
CommandsChief of the Army,
Adjutant General of the Army,
CO, 7th East Bengal Regiment,
CO, 3rd East Bengal Regiment

Hussain Muhammad Ershad (Bengali: হুসেইন মুহাম্মদ এরশাদ; born 1 February 1930) is a Bangladeshi politician who served as the President of Bangladesh from 1983 to 1990.[2]

He seized power as head of the army during a bloodless coup against President Abdus Sattar in 24 April 1982 (by imposing martial law). He declared himself president in 1983, and was elected to the post in his own right in 1986. Ershad served in office until 1990, when he was forced to resign during a popular uprising led by Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. Ershad pursued devolution reforms, privatization of nationalised industries; the expansion of the national highway system; and the founding of SAARC; he committed his nation's forces as an ally to the United States in the Gulf War. He is the founder of the Jatiya Party, currently the second-largest party in the Jatiyo Sangshad.

He contributed to developments in infrastructure and socio-economic growth, divesting key nationalised industries. He restored the chain of command in the Bangladesh Armed Forces after the turmoil following the Mujib assassination.[3] Ershad is currently a member of parliament and the Chairman of Jatiya Party. In 1989, Ershad pushed parliament to make Islam the state religion, in a sharp departure from Bangladesh's original secular constitution.

Ershad has twice been honoured as a United Nations Laureate, for contributions on population and environmental issues.[4][5]

Early life and military career[edit]

Ershad was born in Dinhata, British India in 1930. His parents migrated from Dinhata (subdivision of Coochbehar district of present-day West Bengal) to East Pakistan in 1948 after the India-Pakistan partition.[2][6]

Ershad graduated from the University of Dhaka in 1950 and was commissioned into the Pakistan Army in 1952 from 'Officers Training School Kohat'[7]. He was an adjutant in the East Bengal regimental depot in Chittagong. He completed advanced courses from the Command and Staff College in Quetta in 1966. After serving with a brigade in Sialkot, he was given command of the 3rd East Bengal Regiment in 1969 and the 7th East Bengal Regiment in 1971.[2]

Bangladesh Liberation War and independence[edit]

Ershad in Bangabhaban (1986)

From the beginning of the Bangladesh Liberation War, Ershad was interned along with other Bengali officers stationed in West Pakistan, and held as a prisoner of war.[8] In 1973 he and the others were repatriated to the new nation of Bangladesh in accordance with the Simla Agreement between India's Indira Gandhi and Pakistan's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.[8]

After his return, Ershad was appointed Adjutant General of the Bangladesh Army by President of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president of independent Bangladesh. The different experiences during the war of the professional and paramilitary officers and soldiers in Bangladesh, together with the country's diverse cultures and Muslim majority, created instabilities in the years after independence. The members of the army who had been imprisoned or otherwise out of the country during the liberation war later tended to form different political alliances than those who had participated in the war. This long influenced the instability of national politics and the armed forces.[3] Ershad was sent for advanced military courses to the National Defence University (NDU), India.

On 15 August 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated. Although Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman was arrested in a counter-coup on 3 November 1975, he was restored to power in a coup led by Lt. Colonel Abu Taher on 7 November 1975. The Chief Justice of Bangladesh, Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem, succeeded to the presidency on 7 November 1975 during martial law. At that time, Zia Rahman was appointed as the Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator. General Ziaur Rahman was appointed Army Chief by President of Bangladesh Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad. Rahman appointed Ershad as the Deputy Chief of Army Staff in 1975.

Ziaur Rahman assumed the presidency after legalising the military coups. He revived the multi-party system through the Fifth Amendment of the Bangladesh Constitution. He appointed Ershad as the new Chief of Army Staff, promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant General.[2] Viewed as a professional officer and having a talent for Bengali speech writing, Ershad soon became the closest politico-military counselor of Ziaur Rahman.[8]

Coup and presidency[edit]

Ershad arrives for a state visit to USA (1983)

After the assassination of Ziaur Rahman on 30 May 1981, Ershad remained loyal to the government.[9] He ordered the army to suppress the coup attempt by General Abul Manzoor. Ershad maintained loyalty to the new president Abdus Sattar, who had led the BNP to victory in elections in 1982.[10]

Ershad came to power in a bloodless coup on 24 March 1982 as Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA). President Justice Sattar was replaced with A. F. M. Ahsanuddin Chowdhury.[11][12] Suspending the constitution and political parties, Ershad took over as president on 11 December 1983 by replacing Chowdhury.[13]

Ershad supported the Land Reforms Ordinance of 1984,[14] which granted important rights to tenants for the first time in the history of Bangladesh. A plan for the divestment of government industries promised to move the country away from socialism.

Ershad played a key role during the founding summit of the countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 1985, which was held in Dhaka. Member states of South Asian States agreed to cooperate in politics and economics.[15] Ershad brought together the leaders of India and Pakistan, Rajiv Gandhi and Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, respectively.

As president, Ershad approved amendments to the constitution of Bangladesh which would declare Islam the state religion, abandoning state secularism. (The secular constitution was later restored.)[16][17] To improve rural administration, Ershad introduced the Upazila and Zila Parishad system. He held the 'first democratic elections for these village councils' in 1985.[16][better source needed]

Election of 1986 and 1988[edit]

Presidential Oath Ceremony after 1986 election, with the Chief Justice and long term Military Secretary to the President (1984–1989) Brigadier ABM Elias

Ershad imitated his predecessor President Zia in many ways.[original research?] Initially, he too installed a civilian president, Abul Fazal Muhammed Ahsanuddin Chowdhury (March 1982‐December 1983), and became the President only on 11 December 1983. He also floated a state‐sponsored political party, Jatiya Party (JP), composed of various factions from leftist and rightist political parties to support his regime. Like his predecessor, he allowed political parties to be active.[original research?]

Jatiyo Party nominated Ershad in the Presidential Election of 1986, which was organised by his government. The only significant opposition candidates were Hafezzi Huzur and Syed Faruque Rahman, a retired colonel who had been accused in the 15 August Assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman[18] and the 3 November jail killing in 1975.[citation needed] Parliamentary elections on 7 May 1986, held under the martial law. Main contenders for the parliamentary seats were the Jatiya (People's) Party, formed on 1 January 1986 when the nationwide ban on political activity was lifted, and comprising the five parties which had together formed the pro-government National Front in July 1985 and the opposition leftist Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina. The largest political party of the second Parliament, BNP decided to boycott the poll. Election day was held in a climate of unrest and was marked by opposition charges of voting fraud and malpractices. On 10 May, polling was suspended in 109 constituencies. Following re-elections in 37 constituencies on 19 May, final results giving JP an absolute parliamentary majority were announced ten days later. Ershad's JP was declared the winner with 153 seats out of 300. There were 115 opposition and 32 independent members. However, the inaugural House session was boycotted by 119 opposition and independent MPs. The same day, a new cabinet was sworn in. Ershad was elected as President on 15 October 1986.[19]

However, Ershad faced increasing mass demonstrations on the streets mobilised by both the AL led by Sheikh Hasina and the BNP led by Khaleda Zia. The BNP boycotted the 1986 parliamentary election, but the AL which contested in the parliamentary election, later resigned from the parliament.[20]

On 6 December 1987, Ershad dissolved the parliament in the midst of an opposition campaign calling for his and his government's resignation, and a nationwide state of emergency, which had been declared on 27 November. He stated that he wished to pave the way for fresh elections to receive the people's mandate on various national issues. The polling date was originally set for 28 February before being postponed.

Polling day was marked by violence and a boycott by the three leading opposition groups - the Awami League (an eight-party alliance) headed by Sheikha Hasina Wajed, the Moslem Jammai-i-Islami and the right-wing BNP, all of which alleged electoral fraud. In this context, the ruling Jatiya Dal, or Nationalist Party, reportedly increased its parliamentary majority to 251 seats (including 18 unopposed), independents captured 25 seats and several minor parties shared the rest. On 27 March, a new Council of Ministers headed by Mr. Ershad was sworn in. The Prime Minister is Mr. Moudud Ahmed.[21]

Ershad's regime has sometimes been characterised[by whom?] as the longest autocratic rule in Bangladesh. The two general elections were widely criticised by the opposition parties. BNP boycotted the election in 1986. The government gained legitimacy by the participation of the other major opposition party, Awami League, and Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in the nation.


Ershad stabilized the Bangladesh Armed Forces, which had struggled with a series of coups and counter coups since the nation achieved independence in 1971. These arose in part because of the division in the Army between those who had participated in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, and those who had been interned or voluntarily stayed in West Pakistan during the conflict. As those men were repatriated and the Armed Forces needed their participation, they were welcomed back, but complained of discrimination in favour of the freedom fighters.[3] The repatriated officers comprised 60% of the officers and a sizeable interest group.[3] The freedom fighters, part of the development of Bangladesh from the beginning, tended to identify with the Awami League. The repatriated officers tended to identify with the BNP as the opposition. They carried out their rivalries in part through coups.[3]

The Bangladesh Armed Forces did not attempt any coups from Ershad's takeover in 1982 until the fall of the BNP government in 1996.[3] The Awami League in alliance with Jatiya Party won the June 1996 general election.[3]

Ershad approved the participation in 1988 of the Bangladesh Army in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations for the first time.[22][23] In addition to contributing to multi-national initiatives, this enabled the Armed Forces to earn foreign currency. Their participation in other UN-sponsored actions has continued to contribute to the Treasury.[24]


Both the BNP and the Awami League boycotted the 1988 general election. There were reports of violence, human rights abuse and corruption during Ershad's tenure, which have been continuing problems in the country.

On May 15, 2011, Supreme Court declared the military rule of Ershad illegal in a verdict that also said the actions taken by his regime will remain effective until their fate is decided by parliament. “All proclamations, Martial Law Regulations, Martial Law Orders, made/promulgated during the period between 24 March 1982 and the date of commencement of the Constitution (Seventh Amendment) Act, 1986 (Act 1 of 1986) are hereby declared illegal and void....,” the SC said in its brief verdict.[25]

Legacy and honours[edit]

The Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge Authority (JMBA) was set up by an ordinance promulgated by the then President Ershad on 3 July 1985 to implement the project. For mobilisation of domestic resources, another ordinance was promulgated by which a Jamuna Bridge surcharge and levy were introduced. A total of Tk 5.08 billion was mobilised in the process till its abolition.

He was honoured twice as a United Nations Laureate during his presidency:

  • UN Population Award (1987)[4]
  • UN Environment Award (1988), in recognition of the campaign for an international convention on the protection and conservation of climate, and other contributions.

Pressure for democracy[edit]

A wide umbrella of political parties united against Ershad. Khaleda Zia led the BNP, which allied with the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. Other Islamic parties and alliances joined the opposition ranks. They called for strikes and protests that paralysed[further explanation needed] the state and its economy. Although the parliament was dissolved, fresh elections were boycotted by the opposition, including Awami League and Jamaat. Students launched an intensifying opposition campaign, which ultimately forced Ershad to step down on 6 December 1990. The West, which had backed him for almost a decade, no longer supported him in light of the effective end of Cold War. Lt General Nuruddin Khan as Chief of Staff of the Army, unlike his predecessor Lt Gen Atiqur Rahman, did not back the President.

Ershad appointed Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed to form an acceptable neutral caretaker government and prepare for democratic elections. This was an innovation that was not provided for in the constitution.[citation needed]. Shahabuddin immediately placed Ershad under arrest and detained him, an action declared illegal in 1998 in a case appealed to the nation's Supreme Court.[26]

In 1996 the newly elected government of the Awami League selected Shahabuddin as the President and appointed Lt General Nuruddin Khan as the Energy Minister. After a period, he was demoted to minister without portfolio for gross mismanagement.[27]

Although anti-Ershad sentiment was strong, Ershad contested the 1996 election from jail and still won all five different constituencies he had contested from in 1991[citation needed]. The new government led by the BNP's Khaleda Zia instituted a number of corruption charges. Ershad was convicted in two charges till date, while all others were dismissed and thrown out of court.

In the 1991 and 1996 elections, during when he was in jail, Ershad won from five different constituencies. In 1996, he provided his support to the Awami League and helped form a government of consensus although his party sat on the opposition side of the parliament.

Ershad was released from jail on 9 January 1997 by the government, but only after he provided unconditional support to the Awami League. In March 1998, he was approached by a NY, USA based lobby group to get ready for next election. Somehow he ignored that opportunity and referred the lobby group to Brig. Gen. Illias for further negotiation, thereby losing his opportunity to gain the optimum power to come back in the limelight during 2001 election. It is assumed[according to whom?], during 1998 till mid of 2001, he was guided by JP politicians with very little exposure of international lobbies that made him suffer till 1st quarter of 2013.

In 2008, Ershad supported the Awami League in the December election. It was rumored[clarification needed] that the party had committed to making him president, but did not.

Political career since 1991[edit]

Ershad, is the only high-profile politician to be convicted of corruption and serve a prison sentence. Legal complexities tend to prolong the investigation and settlement of the corruption cases against senior politicians in Bangladesh." We really don't know what will be the fate of these cases", lawyer Shahdeen Malik told the BBC.[28]

Ershad lost his membership in parliament owing to his conviction on charges of corruption when his relations with the ruling Awami League subsequently deteriorated. He switched his support to his one-time political adversary and main opposition leader, Khaleda Zia forming an anti-government coalition.[29][29] Thus, the questionable court verdict followed.

Both Khaleda Zia of BNP and Sheikh Hasina of Awami League allied together to oust Ershad. Ironically both of these two top parties also allied with him and his Jatiya Party in time of their need to suit their purpose.[30]

Ershad called President Iajuddin Ahmed three times along with Kazi Zafar Ahmed twice on 23 December not to extend two days time for filing nominations for scheduled 22 January 2007 elections when Awami League and its allies decided to join that elections after long parley of Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury with Sheikh Hasina. However, for the sake of continuation of democratic process Chowdhury convinced all concerned that without both Awami League and BNP the election will not be credible.

On 30 June 2007 Ershad stepped down temporarily from the post of Party chairman, indicating an end to his political career.[31] It is speculated that he stepped down under pressure as the Caretaker Government started a series of prosecution and arrest for corruption and criminal charges against political leaders of Awami League and BNP including Sheikh Hasina,[32] Khaleda Zia[33][34] and Zia's son Tareq Rahman[35] among others.[36][37]


On 1 March 1998, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh ruled that President Ershad's original arrest in 1990 by the caretaker government, led by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, was illegal.[26] This ruling would have permitted Ershad to sue the government for wrongful arrest. Ershad was convicted on a separate and unrelated charge eleven years after this arrest.

Charges and convictions[edit]

Ershad has been convicted and served time for only one case that has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the nation – Janata Tower Case. When his relations with the ruling Awami League subsequently deteriorated as he joined hands with the other main opposition BNP of Khaleda Zia.

He was found guilty in the Janata corruption case and was sentenced by the trial court to seven years imprisonment. Later the High Court Division affirmed the conviction but reduced the sentence to five years. The people were charged with building the Janata. It involved two charges – abuse of power in allotting land in Dhaka, which took place after Ershad colluded with M. M. Rahmat Ullah; and possessing unaccounted money. The Justice in his 91-page verdict found Ershad guilty under the Prevention Act.

Ershad was sentenced in corruption case on 20 November 2000. He was released on bail, on 9 April 2001 after serving four months in jail in Dhaka. As a result, he could not contest the 2001 elections.

There are still a few other pending cases against him but most has been thrown out of the court or cleared him of any wrongdoing. The most famous case that the BNP Government at the time falsely implicated him by was a gold smuggling case.[38] This was later thrown out by a Dhaka Court[39][40][41]


On 8 April 2008, Ershad took charge of his Jatiya Party once again[42] In 2006, he protested against the controversial Election Commissioner (CEC) MA Aziz decisions on holding polls. He later joined the street movement along with Awami League.[43]

On 19 November 2008, Jatiya Party and Awami League agreed to contest the elections jointly under the Caretaker Government to be held on 29 December 2008. Out of the 300 constituencies in the parliament, Ershad's Jatiya Party contested from 49 (later 42 as Awami League did not pull back its candidates from few seats as agreed earlier) seats and Awami League and members of a leftist Fourteen Party Coalition from the rest 250 seats.[44] Thus, the Grand Alliance emerged in Bangladesh.

Ershad contested the Bangladesh Parliamentary Election 2008 from three constituencies. According to Bangladesh electoral laws, a person is allowed to contest from three places, but can retain only one seat and two are to have by-elections after formation of government. These constituencies included his birthplace[clarification needed] Rangpur (Rangpur-3 and Kurigram-2), and Dhaka-17, the capital's diplomatic zone, where he resides. He won all three seats in the election.

Ershad has been considered[according to whom?] as an unpredictable character in Bangladesh politics. He joined 4 Party Alliance at the end of BNP term of 2001–06 after meetings with Tarique and Babar at his (Ershad) Residence, which was followed by meeting with Khaleda Zia at her (Zia) Cantonment's Mainul Road House. In late October 2006, he said he is not with 4 Party Alliance and the following day he reversed position. Later, he went to hiding for 3 days and joined Grand Alliance at Paltan Maidan with Sheikh Hasina. Sheikh Hasina breached agreement with him on to make him the President for at least six months. Moeen also committed to make him President before 11 January 2007, but did not. Ershad was offered to be head of the Government in 1991 by Sheikh Hasina while he was in jail and by Khaleda Zia in 1996 before Awami League formed Government after 21 years.[45] Ershad joined 4 Party alliance earlier also after 1996 elections but left later.

2014 Election was a controversial election for Jatiya Party where Ershad's spokesperson Bobby Hajjaj publicly declared that Jatiya Party would not participate in the election. After the 2014 election, Ershad became the special envoy of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the Bangladesh Awami League led government. Jatiya Party became the opposition party and Rowshan Ershad, Ershad's wife, became the leader of the opposition.[46] Despite being in the opposition party some leaders of Jatiya Party are also in the government cabinet.[47] In January 2016, Ershad's brother, GM Quader, was made the vice chairman of the party.[48] In April 2016, Ershad appointed Rowshan as the vice-chairman of the party.[49] In March 2017, Ershad indicated he might form a new political alliance with 14 other parties.[50][51] For the next general election, the Jatiya Party under Ershad has formed a 58 party grand alliance of its own. Of the 58 parties, only Jatiya Party and Bangladesh Islamic Front have registration with the election commission as of 2017.[52]

Personal life[edit]

Ershad is married to Rowshan Ershad. Rowshan was elected as a member of parliament three times in the elections of 1991, 1996 and 2001. She contested the elections of 2008 from Ershad's Jatiya Party again but lost her seat in a controversial seat sharing deal against the party's ally Awami League.[53][54] After the 2014 election, she took charge of the office of the opposition leader of the parliament.

They have a son - Shad Ershad. He ran into legal complications when he was arrested for allegedly abducting a 14-year-old girl, later the girl's father has been quoted as saying she is mentally unstable.[55] Ershad claimed that this was a false accusation, made to discredit his party.[55] Ershad filed suit at High Court of Bangladesh challenging the arrest. Shad is married to Armim Khan. She is the granddaughter of Business magnate M.R. Khan, one of the 24 business families in Bangladesh.[citation needed]

Ershad's daughter Mahajebin lives in London with her two children and husband. She has an MA in graphics design from London School of Art and an MA in cultural studies from London School of Economics.[citation needed]

Ershad has been linked by the media on different extra-marital affairs, which were on tabloids and newspapers in the country soon after his downfall which continued till 2006. His alleged affair with Zeenat Mosharraf, a member of parliament almost[further explanation needed] removed him from the chairmanship.[56]

Ershad's marriage with Bidisha ended in a divorce and sedition charges brought by the then BNP Government against her.[57] He divorced her for allegedly hiding her first marriage which still was not annulled at the time of their marriage.[58]

A woman named Marieum Mumtaz filed a suit against Ershad in USA, seeking dissolution of marriage. She alleged that he had abandoned her.[59]

Religious views[edit]

Ershad was a devotee of the Sufi Pir Atroshi and spent considerable time with him during his presidency.[60]


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External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Ziaur Rahman
Army Chief
Succeeded by
Atiqur Rahman
Political offices
Preceded by
AFM Ahsanuddin Chowdhury
as President of Bangladesh
Succeeded by
Shahabuddin Ahmed
as Caretaker government chief of Bangladesh (acting president)