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Dhaka plans sweeping constitutional changes


Dhaka : The Bangladesh government is planning sweeping changes in the country’s 1972 constitution to restore some of the original provisions removed or replaced by successive military and civilian regimes.

The changes through the 15th amendment, meant to “let democracy strike deeper roots”, would be done through “popular consensus”, Law Minister Shafiq Ahmed announced Thursday.

A draft letter has been sent to the Law Commission that would study the statute book to recommend how it can be “updated” and remove some of the “distortions”.

The original document had secularism and socialism among the basic concepts of nationhood. Socialism was dropped; instead of secularism, ‘Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim’ inserted before the preamble of the constitution in 1979.

This statute change also ratified the laws enacted during the martial law period of a military-led regime of General Ziaur Rahman, founder of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that subsequently shared power in 2001-06 with the fundamentalist Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.

During the regime of another military strongman, H.M. Ershad, the eighth amendment on June 9, 1988 declared Islam as the state religion of Bangladesh, New Age newspaper said Friday.

According to Ahmed, the original provisions need to be restored for good governance and democracy to take root.

“The constitution has been altered through martial law proclamations at different times, and we have been far removed from the ideals of the great Liberation War,” The Daily Star quoted him as saying.

Any changes in these provisions are likely to meet with stiff political opposition in the Muslim majority nation.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who swept the poll last December defeating these parties, also wants to remove a provision for a caretaker government to take office three months before an election and conduct impartial poll.

This change was brought about during Hasina’s earlier tenure (1996-2001).

However, the provision got distorted when a caretaker government that took office in November 2006, failed to conduct elections and imposed a state of emergency that lasted two years.

Both Hasina and her rival Khaleda have blamed each other for the political turmoil and suspension of democracy during that period.