Political parties and leaders:
Awami League or AL led by Sheikh Hasina
Bangladesh Nationalist Front or BNF led by Abdul Kalam Azadi
Bangladesh Nationalist Party or BNP led by Khaleda Zia
Bangladesh Tariqat Federation or BTF led by Syed Nozibul Bashar Maizbhandari
Jamaat-i-Islami Bangladesh or JIB (Makbul Ahmad)
Jatiya Party or JP (Ershad faction) led by Hussain Mohammad Ershad
Jatiya Party or JP (Manju faction) led by Anwar Hossain Manju
Liberal Democratic Party or LDP led by Oli Ahmed
National Socialist Party or JSD led by Khalequzzaman
Workers Party or WP led by Rashed Khan Menon
[Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Seats by party as of January 2020 — Awami League (AL): 299,; Jatiya Party (JP, a conservative but centrist party): 27; Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) 7; other: 10; independent: 4; vacant: 3. Composition: men 274 (73 percent); women: 73 (21 percent). The legislature of Bangladesh is a unicameral (single house) parliament called the Jatiya Sangsad ("House of the Nation"). It has 350 members who are elected by universal suffrage at least every five years. 300 members in single-seat territorial constituencies are directly elected by simple majority popular vote; 50 members — reserved for women only — are indirectly elected by the elected members by proportional representation vote using single transferable vote. All members serve five-year terms. Elections were last held on December 30, 2018. The next will held in 2023. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Ruling party: Awami League of Sheikh Hasina. The Awami League has a long history. The party has it roots among civilians and trade unions. It is regarded as centrist but leaning to the left and has traditionally supported government-interventionist policies but has become more centrist and free-market-oriented in last couple of decades.

Major opposition party: Bangladesh National Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia. The BNP was founded by Gen. Ziaur Rahman, the Bangladeshi president who ruled from 1977 until his assassination in May 1981. The party is now led by his widow, Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. It is regarded as conservative, and centrist but leaning to the right. It is credited with opening up Bangladesh economically in the 1990s.

The BNP and Awami League have traditionally traded power but in recent years Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League the BNP is but a shadow of its former self, holding on seven out of 350 seats in parliament. The second strongest party in the legislature is the Jatiya Party (JP), a conservative, centrist party. The JP is close to the BNP in overall orientation, but pushed through a bill in Parliament that made Islam the state religion in 1988. There used to a relatively influential left wing alliance but that has largely disappeared.

According to the “Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments”: There are more than one hundred political parties in Bangladesh, but only thirty to forty have an active presence, with five wielding the most political power. The Jatiya Party is more conservative but with similarities to both the BNP and the AL. Jamaat-e-Islami Party and the Islami Oikyo Jote represent the extreme right and Islamist side of Bangladeshi politics. Both call for an increased role for Islam in national politics and an expansion of sharia (Islamic law). The Bangladesh Communist Party and factions of the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal represent the extreme left and advocate revolutionary changes in the government. [Source: “Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments”, Thomson Gale, 2008]

Political Parties Before Bangladesh Independence

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: From 1947 through the end of 1971, East Pakistan — now Bangladesh — was governed as a single province, one of the two wings of Pakistan. In all, there were more than 30 political parties operating in the east wing, most of the them small, fractious, and with few elected members. The major parties at that time operated on the all-Pakistan level as well, and included the moderate Pakistan Muslim League (PML), a national movement that became the party of independence and the ruling party of Pakistan; the moderate socialist Awami (Freedom) League (AL), a spin-off from the Muslim League and the advocate of Bengali autonomy, with the bulk of its support in the east wing; the ultraconservative Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), grounded in Sunni Islamic orthodoxy (in Pakistan as in India) and initially opposed to the 1947 partition; and the leftist peasants and workers party, the Krishak Sramik Party (KSP) of Fazlul Haq. The Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) was banned in 1952 and remained illegal until its east wing component became the Bangladesh Communist Party (BCP) after 1971. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

“The PML governed East Pakistan from 1947, but in elections in 1954, the Awami League and the Krishak Sramik, supported in a United Front by the Jamaat, ousted the Muslim League from office. After four years of political instability, however, the two parties were displaced by the central government under "Governor's Rule," and the emergency provisions of the 1935 Government of India Act, then Pakistan's constitution. When the East Pakistan government was restored in August 1955, the KSP ruled in its own right until displaced by an AL government headed by Maulana Bhashani in 1956. Loss of Hindu support in 1958 cost the AL its majority in 1958, but "Governor's Rule" was again imposed, the provision having been carried over into the 1956 Pakistan Constitution. Martial law was imposed in Pakistan in 1965 and in elections held thereafter, under a limited political franchise, the Muslim League, now a shadow of its former self and the vehicle for General Ayub Khan's entry into elective politics, came to power briefly. Imposition of martial law in 1969 suspended political activity again until the scheduling of elections in 1970 restored political activity.

“By 1970, the moderate-to-left populist Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Zulfikar Bhutto, and the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, now advocating far-reaching autonomy for East Bengal, had become the dominant political forces, respectively, in West and East Pakistan. Elections confirmed this position, with the AL winning 167 of East Pakistan's 169 seats in the National Assembly and absolute control in East Pakistan.

Political Parties After Bangladesh Independence

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: The Awami League (AL) “was the only constituent in the Bangla Government-in-Exile in 1971, with leftist parties in support and Islamic parties in opposition. After independence, the Islamic party leaders were jailed, their parties having been banned, and in 1973, Mujib's Awami League elected 293 members of the 300-elective seats in the Assembly.

“In January 1975, with his power slipping, President Mujib amended the constitution to create a one-party state, renaming his party the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL). After the coup later in 1975, the BKSAL was disbanded and disappeared. When Ziaur Rahman lifted the ban on political parties in 1978, his presidential bid was supported by a newly formed Nationalist Front, dominated by his Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which won 207 of the assembly's 300 elective seats. All political activity was banned anew in March 1982 when Gen. Ershad seized power, but as he settled into power, Ershad supported the formation of the Jatiya (People's) Party, which became his vehicle for ending martial law and transforming his regime into a parliamentary government. In elections marked by violence and discredited by extensive fraud, Ershad's Jatiya Party won more than 200 of the 300 elective seats at stake. The Awami League, now under the leadership of Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, took 76 seats as the leading opposition party. Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP, heading an alliance of seven parties, boycotted the elections and gained considerable respect by this action. The BNP, the AL, and all other parties boycotted Ershad's 1988 election as well, discrediting the result that gave the Jatiya a two-thirds majority and fueling the fires of discontent that led to Ershad's resignation on 4 December 1990. Ershad was arrested on corruption charges eight days later by the interim government, convicted, and imprisoned on corruption charges.

“A BNP plurality in the elections on 27 February 1991 enabled Begum Khaleda Zia to form a government with the support of 28 of the appointive members of the assembly and of the JI, which won 18 seats. The leader of the opposition is Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the Awami League (AL), which won 88 seats to claim the second ranking position in the assembly. However, Khaleda Zia resigned and Parliament was dissolved in March 1996 amid vote-rigging charges and a two-year government boycott by opposition parties. June 1996 elections brought Sheikh Hasina and the AL to a majority role in the new Parliament. The AL won 140 seats to the BNP's 116. New Prime Minister Hasina formed a cooperative government with the Jatiya Party, which won 32 seats. Although the Jatiya Party withdrew from the coalition in March 1997, the Awami League had by then acquired an absolute majority in the legislature and continued as the party in power.

“From 1997 to 2001, the main opposition party, the BNP, hindered the work of the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) by repeatedly boycotting its proceedings. One such boycott — over issues ranging from restoration of a floating footbridge to Ziaur Rahman's tomb to the dropping of criminal charges against BNP members of parliament — lasted for six months (August 1997 — March 1998). Outside Parliament, the BNP continued to support public anti-government demonstrations, and organized a three-day general strike (hartal ) in November 1998 to protest alleged government repression. A month later, the opposition strengthened its position when the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami decided to accept Ershad and his Jatiya Party into the antigovernment movement.

“After October 2001 parliamentary elections swept Khaleda Zia's BNP to power, ousting the Awami League of Hasina Wajed, concern was raised over the political stance of one of Zia's coalition partners, the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which voices support for Osama bin Laden. Zia's three coalition partners in the government formed in 2001, JamaateIslami, Islami Oikya Jote, and the Naziur faction of the Jatiya Party, are all Islamic parties advocating a return to Islamic law, or Shariah. Zia, however, granted the US-led military coalition the use of Bangladesh air space and other help for its attacks on bin Laden and his al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 2001 — 02, approving of the US-led war on terrorism. Hasina's Awami League supports secularism. Khaleda Zia's term extended through 2007.

Awami League

The Awami League is a secular-oriented, formerly socialist-leaning party. It is has traditionally not taken a strong anti-India position and is fairly liberal with regard to ethnic and religious groups, and supports a free-market economy. In the past it was more socialist. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

The Awami League, which was consistently split during the Zia regime, underwent further turmoil in the aftermath of Ershad's March 1982 coup before achieving a new level of unity. In the 1982-83 period, there were two main groups within the Awami League, one headed by Hasina as president and another headed by Abdur Razzak as secretary general. In October 1983, Abdur Razzak left the party to form the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League. This group was modeled on the national party of the same name that briefly held power before Mujib's death in 1975. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

Hasina proved to be a formidable politician and retained absolute control over the Awami League through the 1980s, becoming the major leader of the political opposition in Bangladesh. For several years, the Awami League headed a fifteen-party alliance, but its decision to participate in the 1986 parliamentary elections alienated some leftist parties. This development left the Awami League at the head of an eight-party alliance whose membership was in a state of flux but at one point included the Bangladesh Communist Party, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League, the Gana Azadi League (two factions), the National Awami Party, the Samajbadi Dal (Socialist Party), and the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (Sultan Raja Faction). *

The Awami League traces its descent from the party of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and in the late 1980s it continued to advocate many of the socialist policies of the early 1970s. The Awami League condemned the denationalization and militarization of Bangladesh that occurred after 1976, and it leaned toward a pro-Soviet stance. These policies often made it the target of opponents, even those within the alliance, who, in linking its policies to a pro-Indian program, easily attacked it with nationalist rhetoric. The Awami League has been the most outspoken of the opposition parties against the role of the military in government, and in the late 1980s it was doubtful whether military leaders would allow it to achieve a large degree of political influence without a direct military response. Nevertheless, despite the opposition of the Ershad regime and the military, the Awami League has remained one of the few parties with a substantial following throughout the country and with action wings in rural areas. In 1988 its student wing was the Bangladesh Chhatro League (Bangladesh Students League), and its workers' front was the Jatiyo Sramik League (National Workers' League).

Bangladesh National Party (BNP)

The BNP, headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, is less secular, more Islamic and more anti-India than the Awami League. In the past the BNP has allied itself with Jamaat-e-Islami Party, the Islamist party that voiced support for Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida. The BNP’s main coalition partners — Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote, and the Naziur faction of the Jatiya Party — were all Islamic parties advocating a return to Shariah (Islamic law).

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party received a heavy blow as a result of Ershad's March 1982 coup. From a position of control under Zia, it was thrown into the political wilderness, with many of its leaders prosecuted for corruption. During the 1982-83 period, the party was divided into two groups, one headed by Abdus Sattar, the deposed president, with Khaleda Zia as senior vice chairman, and the other headed by former Minister of Information Shamsul Huda Chowdhury. The latter group quickly disappeared, and the dominant faction found a popular leader in Khaleda Zia. She became party chairman and was reelected unopposed in 1986. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

Throughout the 1980s, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led a seven-party alliance that consistently refused to recognize the Ershad regime. The price it paid for this stance was an inability to participate in the government. In fact, the policies advocated by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party differed little from those of the Jatiyo Party once it was in power, for both groups were descended from the military rule of Zia's time. Although the Bangladesh Nationalist Party generally ranked behind the Awami League in terms of public support, it had a presence in the countryside through its peasants' wing, the Jatiyobadi Krishak Dal (Nationalist Peasants Party), formed in October 1987. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party also backed a student wing called the Jatiyobadi Chhatro Dal (Nationalist Students Party) and a workers' front called the Jatiyobadi Sramik Dal (Nationalist Workers Party). *

Awami League Versus Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)

Since Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been passing control of the country back and forth between themselves. In 1990s and early 2000s, the BNP appeared to have the upper hand. The Awami League ruled from 1996 until 2001 when it suffered a staggering defeat at the polls. In 2001 the BNP won 191 of parliament's 300 seats, while the AL captured only 62. Since 2009, however, Bangladesh has been lead by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, head of the Awami League.

According to “Governments of the World”: “Over the years the two parties have engaged in bitter battles. For instance, in 1994 the AL resigned from parliament to protest BNP rule. When the AL left parliament it touched off a constitutional crisis, forcing new elections, which the AL then won. While the two sides harbor a fair amount of antagonism toward each other, their hostility is based more on personal animosity between the leaders than on significant ideological differences. Sheikh Hasina Wajed (b. 1947) has led the AL since 1981, while the BNP president has been Khaleda Zia (b. 1945) since 1984. As president of the party, Zia became the Bangladeshi prime minister following the BNP's win in 2001. [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities , Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Consolidation of democratic practices remained a continuing challenge, however. Alleging government suppression of its workers, the BNP repeatedly boycotted parliamentary sessions, engaged in street demonstrations, and shut down the country with prolonged strikes. The BNP also refused to participate in any parliamentary by-elections and elections to various local bodies, demanded the organization of all elections for local bodies under a neutral caretaker government, and called for the resignation of the AL-led government. The AL refused to resign, citing its electoral mandate to complete its five-year term. In July 2001 the AL stepped down, and handed over power to a caretaker government headed by the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Latifur Rahman (b. 1936). The results of the October 1 election organized by the caretaker regime saw a reversal of fortune for the AL. The BNP, with its four-party Islamist alliance, won a two-thirds majority of seats in parliament and formed a new government under the prime ministerial leadership of Begum Khaleda Zia (b. 1945).

"In true democracies, you have political parties running on different platforms but working together to govern," said said Nazim Kamran Chowdhury, a former BNP lawmaker. But both parties are relatively centrist, with few issues separating Zia and Hasina. "They have no conception of what democracy is — they just want to rule," Chowdhury said. "The state, running it — they get to decide who gets government jobs, give business to supporters." [Source: Matthew Rosenberg, Associated Press, January 7, 2007]

Islamic Political Parties in Bangladesh

The main Islamic parties in Bangladesh are Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote, and the Naziur faction of the Jatiya Party. They have all advocated a return to Sharia (Islamic law) and have been coalition partners of the BNP. Islamic Oikya Jote (I.O.J.) is regarded as the most radical Islamic party. The National Islamic Unity Front is a faction of the center-right Jatiya Party. It is headed by former army ruler and President Hossaon Mohammed Ershad. It held about 14 seats in parliament in the 2000s.

Jamaat-e-Islami Party is the main Islamist party in Bangladesh. It is regarded as conservative and supports imposing Islamic law and closer ties with countries in the Arab Middle East. In the past it has voiced support for Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida. It supported Pakistan in the 1971 war, was against Bangladesh seceding from Pakistan. and was accused of collaborating with Pakistan. After independence it was outlawed. Over the years it slowly worked it’s way back to being a legitimate party. It is was a key coalition partner for Khaleda Zia and the BNP in the 1990s and 2000s. It held 16 seats in parliament in the 2000s and had two ministers in Khaleda Zia’s 2001 government. It reportedly has ties to Bangla Bhai, which has been labeled as a terrorist group. Both groups deny this.

The group with the oldest tradition was the Muslim League (established in 1906 as the All-India Muslim League), which had been the main force behind the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Because it favored continued union with Pakistan, the Muslim League was almost eliminated from the political stage during and after the independence struggle. It began to stage a comeback during the 1980s and gathered four seats in the 1986 Parliament. The Muslim League supported complete denationalization and opposed the retention of a 51-percent share of public industries by the government. Its policies closely resembled those that led to the formation of Pakistan. Among other things, the party accused the government of a subservient foreign policy toward India, especially in the matter of water disputes, and it repeatedly called for Islamic rule in Bangladesh. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

A more important Islamic party during the 1980s was Jamaat e Islami. This party was temporarily banned in the 1970s because of its opposition to independence, but it returned in the 1980s as the premier Islamic party among the opposition. Jamaat e Islami called for a theocracy, not Western-style democracy, but it simultaneously advocated the resignation of Ershad and the restoration of democracy. The party drew much of its strength from dedicated bands of madrasah students and graduates. As of 1988, its unofficial but militant student front was the Islami Chhatro Shibir (Islamic Students Camp). It also had a workers' front called the Sramik Kalyan Federation (Workers Welfare Federation).

Besides the Muslim League and Jamaat e Islami, there were a number of small parties, possessing little influence, that were oriented toward a poorly defined Islamic state and an anti-Indian foreign policy. For example, the Bangladesh Khilafat Andolan (Bangldesh Caliphate Movement) wanted to launch a "holy war" (jihad) to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh and called for a government based on the Quran and Sunna. In 1986 another one of these parties, the Islamic United Front, demanded scrapping the 1972 Indo-Bangladeshi Treaty of Cooperation, Friendship, and Peace.

Leftist Parties in Bangladesh

The Communist Party of India and other leftist groups for the most part ruled West Bengal from 1977 to 2011. In Bangladesh, leftist parties had their heyday in the 1970s and 80s.

The political left in Bangladesh, represented by a number of socialist and communist parties, has remained numerically small and divided by internal dissension. Yet the left has always been a potent force. The economic difficulties facing workers and peasants and the persistent alienation of the intellectual community have provided fertile ground for the growth of radical politics, and such problems always hold out the potential of massive civil unrest. The socialist policies of the Awami League during the early 1970s brought the small Bangladesh Communist Party, with its pro-Soviet tendencies, very close to attaining political power. More radical groups advocating total revolution based on the Maoist model were major elements behind the growing chaos that brought Mujib down. Under martial law regimes, revolutionary organizational activities became very difficult, and the decline of Maoist ideology in China left Bangladeshi revolutionaries without major ideological support from abroad. During the 1980s, leftist parties were forced into supporting roles within alliances with the major opposition parties, although some created their own coalitions centered primarily on urban bases. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

The Bangladesh Communist Party continued a generally pro-Soviet policy in the late 1980s, and it was part of the eight-party alliance headed by the Awami League. The Bangladesh Communist Party operated a student wing called the Chhatro Union (Students Union) and a workers' front called the Trade Union Centre.

A more significant socialist party in the late 1980s was the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (National Socialist Party). This party began operating in 1972 after the defection of radical elements from the Awami League. It organized an armed opposition to Mujib's regime in the mid-1970s and became very influential among the military during the late 1970s. The party also had some success in parliamentary elections and became important in labor unions through its action wing, the Jatiyo Sramik Jote (National Workers Alliance). By the 1980s, however, it had split into a number of factions with different strategies. The policies of one wing, headed by A.S.M. Abdur Rab, were almost indistinguishable from those of the Jatiyo Party. It cooperated with Ershad's government, praised his martial law rule, supported the move to include the armed forces in district councils and the denationalization bill of June 1987, and participated in the parliaments elected in 1986 and 1988. Another faction, led by Shajahar Siraj, was the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (Siraj), which participated in the 1986 Parliament but consistently voted against the government, calling for "unity of left democratic forces." Still another faction, the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (Inu), headed by Hasan Huq Inu, refused to cooperate with the government and became part of a highly visible five-party alliance along with the Sramik Krishak Samajbadi Dal, (Workers and Peasants Socialist Party); the Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (Bangladesh Socialist Party), which comprised two factions; and the Workers Party. The Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (Inu) operated a radical student front called the Jatiyo Chhatro Samaj (National Students Society). In short, this inability of the various leftist factions and parties to form a consensus ensured that they would be kept out of power.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Bangladesh Tourism Board, Bangladesh National Portal (www.bangladesh.gov.bd), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.