Bangladesh media slams Hasina stand on secularism


Dhaka : Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s move to restore the word ‘secularism’ in the constitution while allowing political activity by religion-based parties has received mixed response from the media.

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New Age newspaper Wednesday called it “a poignant example of political opportunism”, while the New Nation asked whether the court, and not parliament, was the real forum to make changes in the constitution.

The Hasina government moved after the Supreme Court ordered that ‘secularism’, which was in the original statute book of 1972, be restored.

The cabinet Monday decided to ‘reprint’ the constitution, but Hasina said there would be no ban on activity by religion-based political parties.

Bangladesh would remain an Islamic republic and “Bismillahir Rehmanir Rahim” (In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the most Merciful) would be retained in the statute book.

Bangladesh’s 156 million population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim with Hindus, Buddhists and Christians forming less than ten percent.

In a commentary, the New Nation noted that Hasina issued the directives “when Islamic parties raised their concern over the government move to reprint the constitution in line with the court verdict.”

“Many jurists and political scientists have said that the constitution can be amended only by parliament under Article 142 of the constitution. As such, unless parliament approves any part or whole of it, the court judgment cannot be effective in constitution amendment matter.”

New Age editorially said the government was “betraying its intent to circumvent its constitutional obligations”.

“The master stroke, so to speak, is the prime minister’s assertion or assurance, whichever way one puts it, that restoration of secularism as a fundamental policy of the state would not entail any ban on religion-based party, especially those named after Islam. Why then, one might ask, the restoration of secularism as a fundamental policy of the state? Just for the sake of it?” the newspaper said.