“I will be back, there is no need to cry,” Khaleda Zia today told her weeping relatives and supporters, minutes before the three-time former Bangladeshi premier was sentenced to five years in jail in a graft case. Zia, 72, was convicted of embezzling some $250,000 in donations meant for an orphanage trust, established in her late husband Ziaur Rahman’s memory, when she was prime minister from 2001-2006. Wearing an off-white sari and her trademark goggles, the Chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Zia, offered her prayers and comforted her relatives, most of whom, were in tears, as she boarded her motorcade from her Gulshan residence on way to the court. As she left her Gulshan residence, Feroza, many of her relatives broke down in tears, Bangladeshi media reported. “There is no need to cry. I will be alright. You all wait, I will be back. Do not worry and be strong,” Khaleda said while trying to comfort her weeping relatives.
Khaleda’s elder sister, her sisters-in-law, her younger brother, nephews and her lawyers accompanied Zia to the court. Zia’s son Tarique Rahman was given 10 years in jail in the same case. He is currently in London. The same jail term was handed down to four of Zia’s aides. According to experts, now that she has been convicted, Zia will have to stay in jail for at least three days until Sunday. If her lawyers apply for a certified copy of the verdict today and if they get the copy on the same day, they may not be able to file the appeal with the High Court today. In that case they will have to move the case on Sunday. It will depend on the High Court whether it will give Zia bail.
The court may decide issuance of bail immediately. But the bigger question now looms over Khaleda is whether she can participate in the upcoming general elections in December. The conviction means that Zia, the arch-rival of the current prime minister Sheikh Hasina, could be barred from running in December national elections. The law says if someone is convicted for at least two years he or she cannot contest the election for the next five years, The Daily Star said. In Khaleda’s case, if the higher court gives her bail and yet upholds the sentencing, then she will be disqualified from the poll, it said. Her party, the BNP, boycotted the 2014 elections which many see as blunder for her as she remained on the fringe of national politics.
This time Khaleda seems to be firm on participating in the upcoming polls and a day before her sentencing asked her party men to remain united and declared that “nobody will be allowed to score any goal this time on a playground void of the opposition.” This clearly indicates that BNP will participate in the election no matter what, but the question how effective it will be without Khaleda in the race, the paper commented. This is specially so when BNP faces a major setback with its chief behind the bars while the ruling Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in a full campaign mood, it said.