sheikh-hasinaSheikh Hasina Wajed, the former prime minister of Bangladesh whose father led the nation to independence, returns to power after spending a year in custody on murder and corruption charges.

Such allegations would have derailed many a political leader but she never left the front line of Bangladesh’s turbulent political scene and sealed her comeback with a crushing victory over arch rival Khaleda Zia.

The criminal charges against her are frozen but in theory the murder count remains outstanding for the incoming leader, together with some of the extortion and graft charges.

Sheikh Hasina, 61, first came to power in 1996, ruling for five years, although she has always struggled to come out of the shadow of her father, president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was assassinated in a 1975 military coup.

Rahman led Bangladesh in its liberation struggle against Pakistan in 1971.

Sheikh Hasina and her sister were abroad at the time of the attack which wiped out almost the whole family including her mother and three brothers.

Known for her fiery speeches, the leader of the left-of-centre Awami League told a crowd of 100,000 at her final election rally on Saturday: “There is a threat on my life but I’ll continue my struggle to see the country smile.

“I’ll serve you until I die.”

Her key election promises have been to fight poverty in the country of 144 million, to lower food prices and modernise the country through technology.

On the campaign trail she has spoken from behind bullet-proof glass or even delivered speeches via a video link due to reports that Islamic militants were plotting to kill her. AFP

In August 2004, she survived an attempt on her life at a political rally. More than 20 people died in the attack and her car was raked with bullets as she fled the scene.

Sheikh Hasina was active in student politics and married nuclear scientist M.A. Wajed Miah in 1968. They have two children, who both live in the United States.

In 1990, she joined forces with Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to help oust military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad.

But afterwards their mutual dislike — played out by supporters in violent street protests — was blamed for the January 2007 crisis that prompted the military to step in, impose emergency rule and set up a caretaker government.

The two women, known as the “battling begums”, were jailed by the current army-backed caretaker government as part of its crackdown on corruption but were released to take part in the polls.

Although the exact number of charges Sheikh Hasina faces has never really been clear, many have been dropped in recent months.

At one time she faced at least half a dozen graft charges and one for the murder of four protesters killed in pre-election violence in 2006.

The Awami League, Bangladesh’s oldest party, was formed in 1948 after the foundation of East Pakistan — as the country was then called after the Indian subcontinent was partitioned — and has traditionally been seen as pro-India.

Hasina has moved the party away from the socialist economics supported by her father toward a market-based approach that backs private sector expansion.