Veteran Awami League leader Zillur Rahman, a close aide to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was today declared as the country's new President by the Election Commission, more than a month after his party swept the landmark general elections.
79-year-old Rahman, the nominee of the Awami League, was the lone candidate for presidency after the expiry of the last date for nomination paper withdrawal today.
"Mohammad Zillur Rahman has been elected the President of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh under Clause 7 of the President Election Act 1991," Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda said in an announcement.
He said Rahman was declared the country's 19th President as his nomination was found valid and no other candidate filed his papers for the presidency.
Meanwhile, Bangabhaban presidential palace officials said the swearing-in ceremony of the new President would be held tomorrow at 7 pm at the Darbar Hall, where Chief Justice M Ruhum Amin would administer the oath of office to him.
Rahman, who succeeds Iajuddin Ahmed, expressed his desire to work neutrally for the welfare of his countrymen.
"I will work for the people neutrally, even though I will be away from active politics," Rahman, who joined politics in his student life, told reporters at his residence.
"I will do everything possible within my limited capability for safeguarding democracy and people's welfare. You know well that the President enjoys limited power (under parliamentary form of government). I will do my job as best I can within those limits," Rahman said.
Rahman was elected as a lawmaker in the 9th parliamentary election held on December 29, and past polls of of 1973, 1986, 1996 and 2001, from his Kishoreganj (Kuliarchar-Bhairab) constituency. He was first elected to the then provincial assembly of erstwhile East Pakistan in 1970 elections.
Awami League led by Hasina bagged three-fourth seats in the 300-member National Assembly in the December 29 polls, dealing a stunning blow to her arch-rival Khaleda Zia of BNP.
Rahman, who has two daughters and a son, lost his wife Ivy Rahman, also a senior Awami League leader, in August 2004 in a grenade attack by militants targeting Sheikh Hasina, who narrowly escaped it.
"I miss her (Ivy). I remember the August 21 incident today.I am still moved by the day," he said in a choked voice.
Rahman, a lawyer by profession, was also close aide to Hasina's father and Bangladesh's founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
He was regarded a key figure in consolidating the Awami League's unity, including during the post-1975 period of political wilderness after the assassination of Bangabandhu along with most of his family members in a military coup.
Rahman is also widely regarded for his role in uniting the party during the past two years of emergency rule when Hasina was in jail for nearly a year to face graft charges.
"Zillur Rahman is one of the country's senior most politician who has made contributions to country's all democratic campaigns since the 1952 Language Movement ... He has the priority to become the President," Hasina said earlier this month announcing his nomination.
Meanwhile, Awami League in a special working committee meeting bid a farewell to Rahman, with Hasina presenting him with the party crest acknowledging his contribution to the group over the decades.
Party leaders gave him a standing ovation while Hasina herself read out the citation with tears in her eyes, party sources said.
"Awami League for the first time in its history formally honoured a presidential candidate," party spokesman and local Government Minster Syed Ashraful Islam later told newsmen at a last night.
Rahman replaces Iajuddin Ahmed, a former university professor and soil scientist, who became the titular head of the country during former prime minister Khaleda Zia's BNP-led four-party government's tenure in 2002.
Zillur Rahman Declared New President of B'desh
Anisur Rahman, Dhaka
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