Structure of Government
The Constitution of Bangladesh has formed the basis for the nation's political organization since it was adopted on November 4, 1972. Many abrupt political changes have caused suspension of the Constitution and have led to amendments in almost every section, including the total revision of some major provisions. It is notable, however, that every regime that came to power since 1972 has couched major administrative changes in terms of the Constitution and has attempted to legitimize changes by legally amending this basic document.
According to the Constitution, the state has a positive role to play in reorganizing society in order to create a free and equal citizenry and provide for the welfare of all. The government is required to ensure food, shelter, clothing, medical care, education, work, and social security for the people. The government must also build socialism by implementing programs to "remove social and economic inequality" and "ensure the equitable distribution of wealth among citizens." These far-reaching goals represented the viewpoints of many members of the 1972 Constituent Assembly and the early Awami League (People's League) government, who were deeply influenced by socialist ideology. Another sector of public opinion, however, has always viewed private property and private enterprise as the heart of social and economic development. This viewpoint is also part of the constitutional principles of state policy, which equally recognize state, cooperative, and private forms of ownership. The Constitution thus mandates a high degree of state involvement in the establishment of socialism, although it explicitly preserves a private property system. In practice, the Constitution has supported a wide range of government policies, ranging from those of the nationalized, interventionist state of Mujib's time to the increasing deregulation and reliance on market forces under presidents Ziaur Rahman (Zia) and Ershad.
The framers of the Constitution, after emerging from a period of intense repression under Pakistan, took great pains to outline the fundamental rights of citizens even before describing the government's structure. According to the section on fundamental rights, all men and women are equal before the law, without discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. The Constitution also guarantees the right to assemble, hold public meetings, and form unions. Freedom of speech and of the press are ensured. Persons who have been arrested must be informed of the charges made against them, and they must be brought before a magistrate within twenty-four hours. The Constitution, however, adds that these guarantees are subject to "any reasonable restrictions imposed by law," leaving open the possibility of an administrative decision to revoke fundamental rights. Furthermore, there is a provision for "preventive detention" of up to six months. Those being held under preventive detention do not have the right to know the charges made against them, nor to appear before a magistrate, and a legal advisory board may extend this form of detention after seeing the detainee. The Constitution does not define the circumstances or the level of authority necessary for the revocation of constitutional guarantees or for the enforcement of preventive detention. During the many occasions of civil disorder or public protest that have marked Bangladeshi political life, the incumbent administration has often found it useful to suspend rights or jail opponents without trial in accordance with the Constitution.
The Islamic religion was the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan, and it has remained an important component of Bangladeshi ideology. The Constitution as originally framed in 1972 explicitly described the government of Bangladesh as "secular," but in 1977 an executive proclamation made three changes in wording that did away with this legacy. The proclamation deleted "secular" and inserted a phrase stating that a fundamental state principle is "absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah." The phrase bismillah ar rahman ar rahim (in the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful) was inserted before the preamble of the Constitution. Another clause states that the government should "preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity." These changes in terminology reflected an overt state policy aimed at strengthening Islamic culture and religious institutions as central symbols of nationalism and at reinforcing international ties with other Islamic nations, including wealthy Arab oil-producing countries. Domestically, state support for Islam, including recognition of Islam as the state religion in the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in June 1988, has not led to official persecution of other religions. Despite agitation by Jamaat e Islami (Congregation of Islam) and other conservative parties, there was no official implementation of sharia (Islamic law) as of mid-1988.
The Constitution is patterned closely on the British and United States models inasmuch as it includes provisions for independent legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. When it first came into effect, the Constitution established a Britishstyle executive, with a prime minister appointed from a parliamentary majority as the effective authority under a titular president. In 1975 the Fourth Amendment implemented "Mujibism" (named for Mujib), mandating a single national party and giving the president effective authority, subject to the advice of a prime minister. The later governments of Zia and Ershad preserved the powers of the presidency and strengthened the office of the chief executive through amendments and their personal control of the highest office in the land. Because of this concentration of power in individual leaders, the Bangladeshi Constitution gives much greater authority to the executive branch than does the United States Constitution. In fact, the legislature and the courts have few constitutional avenues for checking presidential power, while the executive has many tools for dominating the other branches of the government.
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