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Monday, June 27, 2011

SOUTH ASIA: Bangladesh: restoring secular Constitution!


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HAROON HABIB / THE HINDU / June 25, 2011.

"The ruling alliance, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, holds a three-fourths majority in Parliament, more than the two-thirds required for bringing changes to the Constitution." Here, Sheikh Hasina addresses the United Nations General Assembly. File photo: AP.

Two Supreme Court verdicts declaring the controversial fifth and eighths amendments void have brightened the scope for a meaningful constitutional change.
For the first time after 1975, Bangladesh has got the opportunity to correct calculated distortions to its original Constitution framed in 1972, following independence of former East Pakistan. The ruling grand alliance, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, holds a three-fourths majority in Parliament, more than the two-thirds required for bringing changes to the Constitution.
Understandably, the huge majority of the pro-liberation ruling coalition has become an irritant to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the Jamaat-e-Islami and their fundamentalist allies, which think that they may be weakened if the distortions are corrected and secular principles restored.
The two recent landmark verdicts delivered by the Supreme Court declaring the controversial fifth and eighth amendments — brought in by military rulers General Ziaur Rahman and General Hussain Muhammad Ershad — unconstitutional and void have brightened the scope for a meaningful change. Declaring military rule unconstitutional, the court restored the four basic principles — democracy, nationalism, socialism and secularism — which were the pillars of the state.
The Awami League-led alliance, bound by its promise to restore the lost state principles, formed a special parliamentary committee for recommending suitable amendments. The committee, after a year-long exercise, placed its recommendations before Parliament. These recommendations will be included in the upcoming Constitution bill, to be endorsed by Parliament.
Resistance to the changes in all conceivable ways, to deflect the ruling alliance from its avowed path, was expected from the political beneficiaries of the fifth and eighth amendments — the fundamentalists and pro-Islamists. Interestingly, the Sheik Hasina-led coalition has started facing opposition from among its own supporters who fear that the government, due to its “misconceived political readings,” may fall into a trap.
These sections, the vanguard of the nation's secular ethos — freedom fighters, cultural and women activists, leading professional groups in the greater civil society spectrum — allege that while the government proposes to restore ‘secularism,' it also intends retaining some provisions which are in sharp contradiction to secularism and the spirit of the Liberation War.

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