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Former president, military ruler Ershad dies

  • Published at 09:34 am July 14th, 2019
WEB_HM Ershad_Edited_22.07.2018
File photo of HM Ershad Dhaka Tribune

President, PM condole his death

Former President and a Chief Martial Law Administrator, Hussain Muhammad Ershad passed away at the age of 89.

Ershad, founder and chairman of now parliamentary opposition Jatiya Party, breathed his last at 7.45am on Sunday at Combined Military Hospital (CMH). He has left behind his wife Rowshan Ershad, two sons, and at least two adopted children.

President Abdul Hamid, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock, and sorrow at the death of Ershad, leader of the opposition in parliament.

Ershad, who had seized power in a 1982 coup,  was undergoing treatment at the hospital since June 22 as his health condition deteriorated. He was kept in ICU for the last ten days.

His wife Rowshan Ershad, son Shad Ershad, Ershad's younger brother, and acting Jatiya Party (JaPa) chairman GM Quader, Secretary General Mashiur Rahman Ranga, and JaPa top leaders were present at the hospital when he was pronounced dead on Sunday morning. 

Ranga said, the first namaz-e-janaza was held at Dhaka Cantonment Central Mosque after zuhr prayers yesterday. The second funeral prayer will be performed at the South Plaza of Jatiya Sangsad at 10am today followed by the third janaza at Baitul Mukarram Mosque after Asr prayers.

The body of Ershad will be taken to the party office at Kakrail around 11:30am on the same day for paying tribute. His body will then be kept at the mortuary of CMH.

On Tuesday, the body of the former military ruler will be taken to Rangpur by helicopter, and the fourth, and last funeral prayer will be held there after zuhr prayers, Ranga said adding that he would be buried on the same day.

JaPa will open a condolence book today at the party’s Kakrail office for people to show respect to HM Ershad.

Party leaders, activists, and supporters will be able to write in the book from 11am to 4pm till July 18.

Chameleon Ershad: From military ruler to a politician

The person, who was merely noticed during 1970s, became one of the most influential characters of the country's politics from early 1980s.

Ershad reshaped the political history of the country since then. On April 24, 1982, Ershad usurped state power as the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) by removing the elected government of President Abdus Sattar through a bloodless coup, and three days later he installed Justice Abul Fazl Mohammad Ahsanuddin Chowdhury as the President.

Later, Ershad assumed the country’s Presidency in December 1983. Following a nationwide mass movement, Ershad was finally forced to step down on December, 6 1990.

He was arrested in 1991, and was released on bail in January 1997 after serving six years in jail.

Though ousted through a protracted pro-democracy mass movement in 1990, unlike many other dictators, Ershad remained an important character in alliance-based polarized politics in Bangladesh for all these years until his death. 

Born in February 1, 1930 in Coochbehar district of West Bengal in India, Ershad graduated from the University of Dhaka in 1950, and was commissioned into the Pakistan Army in 1952.

He was in the command of 7th East Bengal Regiment in 1971.

He was interned along with other Bengali officers stationed in West Pakistan as a Prisoner of War during the liberation war in 1971, and repatriated to Bangladesh in 1973, and joined the Bangladesh Army.

He was deployed as Adjutant General of the Bangladesh Army by the then Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

He was appointed as Deputy Chief of Army Staff in 1975. Thereafter, former president and BNP founder Ziaur Rahman appointed him as the new Chief of Army Staff in 1976, soon after Zia took charge of presidency.

After the assassination of Ziaur Rahman on May 30 in 1981, Ershad came to power through a coup on March 24, 1982, and proclaimed himself as Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) replacing President Sattar. 

He took over as president on 11 December 1983 by replacing AFM Ahsanuddin Chowdhury, a move that was later ruled to be illegal by the High Court.


Also read- PM mourns Ershad's death


Zia's wife BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is currently in jail for graft case verdict, alleges that Ershad had been behind the failed coup in which her husband was assassinated at Chittagong Circuit House on May 30, 1981.

Till today, Ershad is accused of the killing of Major General MA Manzur, who had allegedly led the failed coup against Zia. A verdict in the case over the killing of General Manzur is yet to be delivered.

Ershad was known as Palli Bandhu by his admirers because of making significant reforms in local government in between 1984 to 1985. 

He was famous for enacting Land Reforms Ordinance of 1984 to ensure the rights of tenants, imposing death sentence for throwing acid on women in early eighties, introducing Upazila, and Zila Parishad system, and holding elections to local government bodies in 1985.

Ershad played a key role in organizing the first SAARC Summit in 1985, though for the past few years this South Asian nations’ association remained largely dysfunctional.

Ershad formed a political party Janadal in 1984, which was later renamed to Jatiya Party on January 1, 1986. He arranged an election in the same year where he was elected as president, although BNP boycotted the election.

He made Islam as the state religion in 1988 by amending the constitution.

His fall started in 1988. In April 1988, mass demonstrations broke out against the president-induced parliamentary bill, but Ershad managed to contain them by vetoing the bill.

Eminent artist Quamrul Hassan drew a cartoon on him titled – Desh aaj bissho beheyar khoppre (Our land is now in the hands of the universal champion of the shameless).

Both BNP and Awami League boycotted the national elections in 1988, and intensified mass movement through joint programmes thereby finally dislodging Ershad from power at the end of 1990. 

Ershad called for an early election on October 15, 1990, and was re-elected for another four years. But could not hold on to power, and resigned the presidency under pressure on December 4, 1990.

A five time lawmaker, pivotal figure in alliance making

The political somersault of Ershad, identified by many as a military dictator and a threat to democracy, continued even after his fall in 1990. Though he served six years in jail, but his release on bail in early 1997 saw him playing auxiliary roles in forming the government by bigger parties.

Ershad was sued in over 26 cases on different charges with one case – General Manzoor murder - still pending.

Ershad is a five time lawmaker. He took part in the national elections of 1991, 1996 from jail, and won from all five constituencies he took part in.

Ershad, who took advantage of the country’s tricky alliance-based politics, became a pivotal figure in the political scenario of Bangladesh, especially in forming coalition governments.


Read more - GM Quader: Ershad’s organs not working properly


He extended support to Awami League to form a coalition government in 1996. In the 2001 elections, he failed to compete as he was sentenced in a corruption case.

Later he was elected as lawmaker in 2008, 2014, and 2018 national elections.

Ershad continued playing his ‘kingmaker’ card even months before his death.

Condolences pour in

Tributes and condolences continue to pour in for Hussain Muhammad Ershad.

President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and Jatiya Sangshad Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury have expressed deep shock, and sorrow at the death of the former president.

In separate messages, the president and the premier prayed for the salvation of his departed soul, and expressed deep sympathy to Ershad's bereaved family members.

The deputy speaker and chief whip of the parliament, a number of cabinet members, and Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor have also mourned the death. 

Political parties including Awami League, BNP, Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh, Krishak Sramik Janata League, and  Zaker Party condoled the death.