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.
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. The 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 Zia-ur 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.
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, Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote, and the Naziur faction of the Jatiya Party, are all Islamic parties advocating a return to Islamic law, or Shari'ah. 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 2001–2002, approving of the US-led war on terrorism. Hasina's Awami League supports secularism. 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 Zia-ur Rahman's tomb to the dropping of criminal charges against BNP MPs, lasted for six months (August 1997–March 1998). Outside Parliament, the BNP continued to support public antigovernment 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. In the spring of 2000, a four-party alliance of opposition parties (BNP, Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Islami Oikyo Jote) announced it was considering plans to form an electoral coalition to oppose the Awami League in the next general elections.