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Former Bangladeshi ruler Gen Ershad dies at 89

July 15, 2019

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Hossain Mohammad Ershad.
—Reuters
Hossain Mohammad Ershad. —Reuters

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s former military dictator H. M. Ershad, who had seized power in a 1982 coup, has died. He was 89.

Ershad had long been suffering from multiple complications including infections in his lungs and kidneys, his younger brother, G. M. Quader, said on Sunday.

He was admitted to the Dhaka military hospital on June 26 and was kept in the intensive care unit. His condition later deteriorated and was placed on life support. Ershad ruled the country from 1982 to 1990.

He was the leader of the opposition in current parliament. He assumed power as the military chief in 1982 and declared himself president the following year. He later floated his own Jatiya Party and won a controversial election in 1986.

President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina both expressed their condolences on Sunday.

Ershad was born in 1930 in Coochbehar district of West Bengal state in then British India.

His parents migrated to present-day Bangladesh, which was then a part of Pakistan, in 1948, after the end of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent.

Ershad was commissioned into the Pakistan Army in 1952 from the Officers Training School in Kohat. He was an adjutant in the East Bengal Regiment, the largest formation in the future Bangladesh Army.

After completing advanced courses from the Command and Staff College in Quetta in 1966, Ershad returned to Bangladesh in 1973, two years after the break-up of Pakistan.

During the 1982 bloodless coup, he took over as the chief martial law administrator by removing the elected government.

In December 1983, he became the president of Bangladesh and continued until 1990, when he was ousted in a mass uprising led by Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, the two archrivals who have been ruling Bangladesh intermittently since its return to democracy in 1991.

Hasina is the current prime minister of the South Asian nation.

Ershad had suspended the country’s constitution and parliament and repressed his political opponents. To gain popularity, his critics say, he had amended the constitution by declaring Islam as the state religion in 1988 in the Muslim-majority nation, which has a legal system based on British common law.

After his ouster, he was arrested in 1991 and released on bail in 1997, as he faced more than two dozen cases. He was acquitted on many of the charges.

He was accused of backing a 1991 military coup in which one of his close military associates was killed. The case remained pending in court until his death.

While his critics say Ershad destroyed many state institutions, others say he decentralised Bangladesh’s administrative structure by bringing rural areas under his development agenda that included the construction of many highways and other infrastructures.

During his rule, Bangladesh improved relations with the United States and Middle East nations. He was elected lawmaker in 2008, 2014 and 2018 national elections.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2019