Constitution of the Republic of Bangladesh: Features and Amendments

Constitution of Bangladesh

The Constitution of Bangladesh was officially adopted on 4th November 1972 by the constitution assembly and implemented on 16th December of the same year, marking Victory Day. It has 153 articles, 1 preamble & 4 schedules. It is the supreme law of Bangladesh. It has been amended 16 times so far. Every citizen of Bangladesh must abide by the rules written in this constitution. The constitution of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh is a written document and inflexible. Based on the Bangladesh constitution, the Bangladeshi Parliament is one chambered. According to this, Bangladesh's judiciary is separated from the executive.

Constitution of the Republic of Bangladesh: Features and Amendments

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Major Features/Provissions of the Bangladeshi Constitution

a) Fundamental Principle of State Policy:  Article 8 of the Bangladesh constitution describes the fundamental principle of state policy which is Nationalism, Democracy, Socialism and Secularism. 

b) Unicameral Legislature:  According to Article 65 of the Bangladesh constitution, the legislative assembly is unicameral. That means there is only one house of parliament, the 'House of the nation', commonly known as 'Jatiya Sangshad'. 

c) Written Document: The constitution is a written document and is divided into 11 parts, which are further subdivided into 153 articles. In addition, there are 7 schedules.

d) Rigid Constitution: Constitution of Bangladesh is inflexible. It cannot be amended without the votes of two-thirds members in the total members of parliament. 

e) Preamble: This is the opening statement that sets out the guiding purpose and principles of the constitution. The preamble is not an indispensable part of the constitution because it is enforceable in a court of law. 

f) Unitary Government: Bangladeshi government is unitary according to the constitution's Article 1. Unitary governance means all power is centralised under the constitution. 

g) Fundamental Right: Third part of Bangladesh's constitution describes the fundamental rights of the people of Bangladesh. These are likely Laws inconsistent with fundamental rights to be void, Equality before the law, Right to the protection of the law, Prohibition of forced labour, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly etc.

h) Independence of the Judiciary: Judicial independence is the theory that the judiciary system should be kept away from the other department of government. In Bangladesh, the Chief justice is selected by the president of the republic, and other justices of the supreme court appointed are after consultation with the chief justice. Justice cannot be removed from his office except by the president's order passed to a resolution of parliament supported by a two-thirds member of the legislature. 

i) Parliamentary form of government:  Bangladeshi Parliament is a Westminster type of parliament according to the constitution. The government is run by a cabinet led by the prime minister. The president is the head of the government, but executive power is exercised by the cabinet of ministers. 


Amendments of the Constitution of Bangladesh (1st to 17th)

First Amendment

On 17th July 1973, the first amendment was made to Article 47 of the constitution. The amendment inserted an additional clause, Article 47(3), that allowed punishment and prosecution of war criminals under international law. A new Article 47A was also added, which specified that certain fundamental rights would be inapplicable in those cases.

Second Amendment

The second amendment of the constitution was passed on 22nd September 1973, which suspended some of the fundamental rights of the citizens during a state of emergency. The act made the following changes to the constitution:
§     Amended articles 26, 63, 72 and 142.
§     Substituted Article 33.
§     Inserted a new Part IXA to the constitution.

Third Amendment

The third amendment was passed on 28th November 1974, bringing changes to Article 2 of the constitution. An agreement was made between Bangladesh and India regarding exchanging certain enclaves and the fixation of boundary lines between the countries.

Fourth Amendment

The amendment was passed on 25th January 1975.

1.      Amended articles 11, 66, 67, 72, 74, 76, 80, 88, 95, 98, 109, 116, 117, 119, 122, 123, 141A, 147 and 148 of the constitution
2.     Substituted Articles 44, 70, 102, 115 and 124 of the constitution
3.     Amended part III of the constitution out of existence
4.     Altered the Third and Fourth Schedule
5.     Extended the term of the first Jatiya Sangsad
6.     Inserted a new part, VIA, in the constitution and
7.     Inserted new articles 73A and 116A in the constitution.

Significant changes included:

o The presidential form of government was introduced, replacing the parliamentary system.
o   A one-party system in place of a multi-party system was introduced;
o   the powers of the Jatiya Sangsad were curtailed;
o   the judiciary lost much of its independence;
o   the Supreme Court was deprived of its jurisdiction over the protection and enforcement of fundamental rights.

Fifth Amendment

Fifth Amendment Act This Amendment Act was passed by the Jatiya Sangsad on 6th April 1979. This act amended the Fourth Schedule to the constitution by adding a new paragraph 18 to that, which provided that all amendments, additions, modifications, substitutions and omissions made in the constitution during the period between 15th August 1975 and 9th April 1979 (both days inclusive) by any Proclamation or Proclamation Order of the Martial Law Authorities had been validly made and would not be called in question in or before any court or tribunal or authority on any ground whatsoever.

Sixth Amendment

Sixth Amendment Act, The Sixth Amendment Act, was enacted by the Jatiya Sangsad to amend Articles 51 and 66 of the 1981 constitution.

Seventh Amendment

Seventh Amendment Act This Act was passed on 11th November 1986. It amended Article 96 of the constitution; it also amended the Fourth Schedule to the constitution by inserting a new paragraph 19 to that, providing, among others that all proclamations, proclamation orders, Chief Martial Law Administrator's Orders, Martial Law Regulations, Martial Law Orders, Martial Law Instructions, ordinances and other laws made during the period between 24th March 1982 and 11th November 1986 (both days inclusive) had been validly made, and would not be called in question in or before any court or tribunal or authority on any ground whatsoever.

Eighth Amendment

Eighth Amendment Act This Amendment Act was passed on 7th June 1988. It amended Articles 2, 3, 5, 30 and 100 of the constitution. This Amendment Act

§  declared Islam as the state religion;
§ decentralised the judiciary by setting up six permanent benches of the High Court Division outside Dhaka;
§  amended the word 'Bengali' into 'Bangla' and 'Dacca' into 'Dhaka' in Article 5 of the constitution;
§  amended Article 30 of the constitution by prohibiting the acceptance of any title, honours, award, or decoration from any foreign state by any citizen of Bangladesh without the president's prior approval.

It may be noted here that the Supreme Court subsequently declared the amendment of Article 100 unconstitutional since it had altered the basic structure of the constitution.

Ninth Amendment

The Constitution (Ninth Amendment) Act 1989 was passed in July 1989. This amendment provided for the direct election of the Vice President; it restricted a person from holding the office of the president for two consecutive terms of five years each; it also provided that a Vice-President might be appointed in case of a vacancy, but the appointment must be approved by the Jatiya Sangsad.

Tenth Amendment

Tenth Amendment Act, The Tenth Amendment Act, was enacted on 12th June 1990. It amended, among others, Article 65 of the constitution, providing for the reservation of thirty seats for the next 10 years in the Jatiya Sangsad exclusively for women members to be elected by the members of the Sangsad.

Eleventh Amendment

Eleventh Amendment Act This Act was passed on 6th August 1991. It amended the Fourth Schedule to the constitution by adding a new paragraph 21 to that, which legalised the appointment and oath of Shahabuddin Ahmed, Chief Justice of Bangladesh, as the Vice President of the Republic and the resignation tendered to him on 6th December 1990 by the then President Hussain M Ershad. This act ratified, confirmed and validated all powers exercised, all laws and ordinances promulgated, all orders made and acts and things done, and actions and proceedings taken by the Vice President as acting president during the period between 6th December 1990 and the day (9th October 1991) of taking over the office of the president by the new President Abdur Rahman Biswas, duly elected under the amended provisions of the constitution. The act also confirmed and made possible the return of Vice President Shahabuddin Ahmed to his previous position as the Chief Justice of Bangladesh.

Twelfth Amendment

Twelfth Amendment Act This Amendment Act, the most important landmark in the history of constitutional development in Bangladesh, was passed on 6th August 1991. It amended Articles 48, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 70, 72, 109, 119, 124, 141A and 142. Through this amendment, the parliamentary form of government was re-introduced in Bangladesh; the president became the constitutional head of the state; the Prime Minister became the executive head; the cabinet headed by the Prime Minister became responsible to the Jatiya Sangsad; the post of the Vice President was abolished; the president was required to be elected by the members of the Jatiya Sangsad. Moreover, through Article 59 of the Constitution, this act ensured the participation of the people's representatives in local government bodies, thus stabilising the base of democracy in the country.

Thirteenth Amendment

The Constitution (Thirteenth Amendment) Act 1996 was passed on 26th March 1996. It provided for a non-party Caretaker Government, which, acting as an interim government, would give all possible aid and assistance to the Election Commission for holding the general election of members of the Jatiya Sangsad peacefully fairly and impartially. The non-party caretaker government, comprising the Chief Adviser and not more than 10 other advisers, would be collectively responsible to the president and would stand dissolved on the date on which the Prime Minister entered his office after the constitution of the new Sangsad.

Fourteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment Act The Constitution (Fourteenth Amendment) Act 2004 was passed on 16th May 2004, providing, among others, the following provisions: An increase in the number of reservation of seats for women in the Jatiya Sangsad from 30 to 45 on a provisional representation basis for the next ten years; increase in the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 65 to 67 years; and displaying of portraits of the President and the Prime Minister at the offices of the President and the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister's portrait in all government, semi-government and autonomous offices and diplomatic missions abroad were made mandatory.

Fifteenth amendment

The Fifteenth Amendment was passed on 30th June 2011, making significant changes to the constitution. The amendment scrapped the system of the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh. It also made the following changes to the constitution:

§  Increased number of women reserve seats to 50 from the existing 45.
§  After article 7, it inserted articles 7(a) and 7(b) in a bid to end take over of power through extra-constitutional means.
§  Restored secularism and freedom of religion.
§ Incorporated nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism as the fundamental principles of the state policy.
§  Acknowledged Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the Father of the Nation.

Sixteenth Amendment

The 16th amendment of the constitution was passed by the parliament on 17th September 2014, which gave power to the Jatiyo Shangshad to remove judges if allegations of incapability or misconduct against them are proved. On 5th May 2016, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh declared the 16th amendment illegal and contradictory to the constitution.

Seventeenth Amendment

According to Article 65 (3) of the constitution, 50 seats would be reserved exclusively for women in the parliament for 10 years from the first meeting of parliament after the one that passed the 14th constitutional amendment in 2004.

As per the constitution, the parliament shall consist of 300 members to be elected directly and 50 reserved seats for women to be allotted to parties based on their proportional representation in the house.

The incumbent 10th parliament has 350 members -- 300 elected in general elections and 50 lawmakers from the reserved seats for women. But the exiting 10-year tenure of the reserved seats will end on 24th January 2019.

According to the draft bill, the 25 years of reserved seats will be counted from the first day of the 11th parliament.

In 2004, the 8th parliament extended the tenure of the reserved seats by another 10 years through a constitutional amendment, and it became effective in the 9th parliament, which sat on 25th January 2009. The 8th parliament increased the number of reserved seats from 30 to 45 while the 9th parliament enhanced it to 50. But the amendment did not extend the term of the quota.

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