Sheikh Hasina: First among equals

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Bagladesh
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Bagladesh

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s public career would be considered remarkable under any circumstances, but it is especially so in her case.

Born in Tungipara, East Pakistan in 1947, Sheikh Hasina was the daughter of Bangladesh’s first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh’s independence movement.

Known as Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur was killed in a coup on 15 August, 1975, along with Sheikh Hasina’s mother, three brothers and other family members. Sheikh Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana, who were visiting West Germany at the time, were the only members of their immediate family to survive. They were promptly banned from home by the military regime that had seized power. Six years later, while still living in exile, Sheikh Hasina was elected as leader of the Awami League Party, which her father had also led; she was 34 years old. Returning to Bangladesh for the first time since her family’s death, she launched the political career that would, over the decades to come, result in various detentions or periods of house arrest and several assassination attempts.
Throughout the 1980s, she fought to restore a democratically elected government to her country. It was only in 1991 that Bangladesh instituted a democratic parliamentary system with a 350-seat national parliament and held general elections. Sheikh Hasina became leader of the official opposition. In the 1996 elections, she ran again and was elected prime minister for the first time.

During her first term, Sheikh Hasina took measures to modernise the Bangladeshi economy: she privatised the telecoms industry and launched the New Industrial Policy, aiming to strengthen private industry and encourage economic growth. She also began to establish new avenues of international cooperation: Bangladesh joined two multilateral bodies, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the D-8 Organisation for Economic Cooperation (D-8).

Throughout the 2000s, Sheikh Hasina again led the opposition and she was elected prime minister for the second time in 2008. As part of her election platform that year, she announced her intention to build a “Digital Bangladesh” by 2021, a vision that aimed to harness technology and innovation to support education, healthcare, job creation, and to combat poverty.

In 2011, at the 66th General Assembly of the United Nations, Sheikh Hasina presented a global peace model called People’s Empowerment and Development, which was accepted as a resolution.1 It underscored her belief in development as a tool for world peace. In this second term, Sheikh Hasina continued her efforts to establish new diplomatic and economic partners for the country. Bangladesh was the first country to send peacekeeping troops to Syria in 2012, and by 2016, it was the fourth-highest troop-contributing country to peacekeeping operations around the world.2

The economy flourished during this term, growing by 6% annually. Sheikh Hasina’s efforts to woo new trade partners resulted in significant increases in exports, and this economic growth enabled her government to achieve key UN anti-poverty and sustainable development goals (SDGs). In 2014, Sheikh Hasina was recognised by UNESCO for her tireless commitment to the promotion of literacy and education for girls and women in Bangladesh.

Now in her third term, Sheikh Hasina has continued to open new channels of trade, while adding further dynamism to the country’s foreign policy; she has deepened ties with the US and China and sought international partners for a range of infrastructure projects at home; and she has

promoted the opening of new economic corridors with regional neighbours.

Three years ago, Bangladesh celebrated a milestone in its development as it moved from Least Developed to Developing Country status. Under Sheikh Hasina’s watch, Bangladesh has become globally regarded as a model of progress in poverty reduction, female empowerment and human development.

In 2017, during the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina said: “We believe that there are close interfaces between peace and stability and development. We share the conviction that addressing poverty, hunger, illiteracy, unemployment and inequalities is crucial for building peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

“We are committed to implementing the SDGs. For that, our government has adopted a ‘whole- of-the-society’ approach. The SDGs complement our vision to transform Bangladesh into a middle- income country by 202l and a developed one by 2041.

“In 2016-17, Bangladesh’s economy posted a GDP growth rate of over 7.24% and our foreign currency reserve reached $32.1 billion. We have brought down the poverty level from 56.7% in 1991 to 23.2% today. Our per-capita income is expected to grow to $1,602 by the end of the current fiscal year, while it was only $543 in the FY 2005-06. Our life expectancy increased to almost 72 years. These figures, indeed, are indications of our inclusive development, in which no citizen is left behind.

“Our youth are the main movers in realising my vision for a knowledge-based ‘Digital Bangladesh’. We are working towards creating an environment to allow them to pursue transformative education, find decent jobs, and turn into truly global citizens. We want sustainable development. Let this be our collective goal.”