A portrait of Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in Dhaka on January 8, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

DHAKA: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina retained her title as the world’s longest serving female head of government as she celebrated securing her fifth term in power.

Hasina, 76, who won a fourth straight term and fifth overall in power by sweeping Sunday’s general election, is credited with presiding over Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth in recent years,

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The daughter of the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, Hasina was fortunate to have been visiting Europe when most of her family were assassinated in a military coup in 1975.

Born in 1947, in southwestern Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, Hasina was the eldest of five children. Hasina did her graduation in Bengali Literature from Dhaka University in 1973 and gained political experience as a go-between for her father and his student followers.

She returned to Bangladesh from India, where she lived in exile, in 1981 and later joined hands with political foe Khaleda Zia, chief of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), to lead a popular uprising for democracy that toppled military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad from power in 1990.

But the alliance with Zia did not last long and the bitter and deep-rooted rivalry between the two women, often called the ‘battling begums’, went on to dominate Bangladeshi politics for decades.

1996 victory

Hasina first led the Awami League party to victory in 1996, serving a one five-year term before regaining power in 2009, never to lose again.

Zia, herself a former prime minister, was jailed in 2018 on graft charges which the opposition says have been trumped up.

The ailing former premier was allowed to stay at home in Dhaka under a special provision since the COVID-19 pandemic but was barred from political activity.

Khaleda’s son, Tarique Rahman, is the acting chairman of the BNP party, but he is in exile after several charges were brought against him. He has denied all of them.

The party’s next most senior leader, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, and several others have been in jail since a deadly protest at the end of October.

Hasina refused BNP demands to resign and allow a neutral authority to run the election, accusing the opposition of instigating anti-government protests that have rocked Dhaka since late October and killed at least 14 people.

Hasina said she did not need to prove the credibility of the election to anyone. “What is important is if the people of Bangladesh will accept this election.”