Constitution

The Executive Branch of the Government

In less than a year after Bangladesh's victory in its War of Independence, the then Prime Minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman presented the nation with a Constitution which was secular in character and egalitarian in nature guaranteeing full fundamental rights to all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, creed, class and sex. In 1991, all the political parties in the opposition opted for a parliamentary system of governance in place of then existing presidential system. In 1996 the provision of holding general elections in the country under a non-party neutral caretaker government was incorporated in the Constitution. This was designed to safeguard the franchise of the people. The Constitution of Bangladesh provides for three organs - the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary - for ensuring accountability, transparency and checks and balances of the government. All the three organs function harmoniously.

Bangladesh switched to the parliamentary system of government in 1991. The President, elected by parliament, is the constitutional head of the Government and acts on the advice of the Prime Minister. At the initiative of the then Prime Minister, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, held in high esteem as a neural non-party personality, was chosen as the President of the Republic. Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was also the Acting President after the fall of the autocratic regime in December 1990 and had supervised the general elections in 1991.

Caretaker Government

A unique feature of the Constitution of Bangladesh is the provision of holding general elections under a neutral, non-party Caretaker Government. The concept of Caretaker Government was the choosing of the major political parties designed to secure people's franchise so as to ensure peaceful transfer of power. It was adopted in the form of Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment provides that the immediate Chief Justice would be the Head of the Caretaker Government. If such retired Chief Justice is not available or is not willing to hold office, then the person who among the retired Chief Justices retired just before the last retired Chief Justice will become the head of the Caretaker Government. If no retired Chief Justice is available or willing to hold the office, then the person, who among the retired judges of the Appellate Division retired last will head the Caretaker Government. If such person is not available, the person who retired as Appellate Division Judge before the last retired judge will be the head of the Caretaker Government. If no such person is available, the President shall, after consultation as far as practicable, with major political parties, appoint the Chief Adviser from among the citizens of Bangladesh who is qualified to be appointed as Adviser. The tenure of such a Caretaker Government will begin three months before every general election. Through this system the people of Bangladesh got back their lost right to vote freely and independently without the pressures of the reigning government.

The Legislature

According to Article 65(1) of the Constitution, all legislative powers of the Republic are vested in Parliament called the Jatiya Sangsad comprising three hundred members directly elected from territorial constituencies. In addition, there are thirty reserved seats for women who are elected by an electoral college of the elected members. The Jatiya Sangsad has a tenure of five years and has to sit every two months. An elaborate committee system has been developed and bills introduced in parliament are referred to the committees for scrutiny. Contrary to the earlier practice, the concerned Minister is no longer the head of the committee, rather a Member of the Parliament heads a committee.

 

The Prime Minister's question hour has been introduced which is televised live and the entire proceedings of the Parliament are directly relayed to provide the people an opportunity to form their own opinion without depending on any intermediary. The Prime Minister also appears before radio and television to answer questions from audiences and viewers on a wide range of subjects and on issues agitating the minds of the people. An institute of Parliamentary Practice has been set up to provide assistance to Members of Parliament in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities.

The Judiciary

The Government has been working for separation of the judiciary from the executive with a view to ensuring full independence of the judiciary. Under the present Government headed by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the country's judiciary enjoys full independence. The Supreme Court stands at the apex of the country's judiciary and acts as the guardian of the Constitution. It has two divisions - the Appellate Division and the High Court Division. The legal decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on all other courts. The judges of both the divisions of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president. There are subordinate courts of district and session judges which deal with civil and criminal suits. The government believes in full freedom of judiciary. Hence the judiciary discharges its duty and constitutional obligations freely and without any let or hindrance.

 A three-year project called "Judicial and Legal Capacity Building" with the objective of improvement of socio-economic condition, reforms of legal system, modernization and development of physical infrastructure of courts has been undertaken. The Government has constituted Legal Aid Committees, headed by District Judges in 61 districts, to provide legal assistance to the poor and destitute litigants. These district level committees have been working under the National Legal Aid Committee. The Government is committed to protect human rights. A Judicial Administration Training Institute has been formed to enhance the professional skill and standard of judicial personnel. A permanent Law Commission headed by a retired Chief Justice of Supreme Court has been constituted to up-date laws by suggesting necessary reforms. The Commission has already undertaken measures to recommend some new laws and re-frame some old ones. Considering the increasing number of pending cases in courts the Government has decided to set up village courts for settling litigation through negotiation called Alternative Dispute Resolution(ADR). The decision of setting up of village courts in line with local tradition is a very timely step. The Public Safety Act (PSA) has been framed for taking prompt punitive action against serious offenders of public peace and security as well as for maintaining general law and order. Special Courts have been set up for the trial of persons engaged in terrorist activities. There are also some special courts like Family Law Courts, Special Tribunals and commercial and financial courts to deal with specific cases.

Local Government

The Parliament has passed the Village Council Bill and District Council Bill. Through necessary amendment to the Union Council Act, for every three wards one seat has been kept reserved for women. Besides the reserved seats, women are also eligible for contesting in the general seats. This has opened up new avenues and opportunities for women's empowerment and flourishing women's leadership at the grass-roots level. Along with initiating appropriate reforms, the local Government bodies have also been strengthened through various other measures.

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