Jatiya Sangsad celebrates golden jubilee

The Jatiya SangsadSyed Zakir Hosain

Today is 7 April. The first session of the Jatiya Sangsad sat on this day in 1973, exactly 50 years ago. The Jatiya Sangsad was formed through the general elections after two years of the independence.

The parliamentary system of government started in the country through the formation of the first parliament. But the country returned to the presidential form of government just after two years of the beginning of parliamentary system of government. The march of democracy in the country suffered hitches due to military rules following the killing of Bangabandhu along with his family members.

First Ziaur Rahman and then Hussein Mohammad Ershad adopted the military rule. After protests and demonstrations for a long time, the parliamentary system of government started in the country again in 1991. Since then, this form of government has been going on in the country except for the two years in 2007 and 2008. That time an army-backed caretaker government ruled the country.

Though the parliamentary system of government has been going in the country for more than three decades, there are questions as to how much it could ensure accountability and good governance. There are also questions about the nature of democracy being practiced in the country.

In the last 50 years of the Jatiya Sangsad, the constitution has been amended for 17 times. There are debates about the amendments too.  Four amendments were taken in the very first parliament. No amendment was adopted in the 7th parliament (1996-2001) only.

The first parliament passed the first amendment bill on 15 July, 1973. The amendment was brought enact laws and to implement those to bring under book the war criminals, people who were involved with mass killing, war crimes, or crimes committed against humanity during the liberation war in 1971. The Awami League government led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of Bangladesh’s independence, brought the amendment.

In the fourth amendment brought in the first parliament in 1974, the parliamentary system of government was changed into one-party ruling system, which is known as BKSAL. Later, amendments were brought in the constitution in two parliaments to legalise the military rule.

In the “elected” parliament during the military regime of Ershad in 1988, changes were brought in the issue of secularism. Then Islam was made the state religion by amending the constitution. Awami League, BNP and many other political parties opposed the amendment that time. But following the fall of Ershad, though both the Awami League and BNP formed the government, none of them touched the section on state religion.

The fifth amendment was made to legalise the military government that was implemented following the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib along with his family members in 1975. This amendment was made in the second parliament in 1979 when Ziaur Rahman was in power. At the same time, ‘Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim’ was also added.

Following the fall of Ershad through mass movement in the 90’s, the parliamentary system of government was brought back. To do this, the 12th amendment of the constitution was adopted at the consensus of Awami League and BNP and other political parties.

In 1996, a huge change was made in the electoral system in the country by adopting the non-party caretaker government system instead of partisan government during the polls. The system was introduced through 13th amendment in the constitution. Later in 2011, the system was changed again through the 15th amendment in the ninth parliament in 2011.

Many laws have been passed in parliament of independent Bangladesh as of now. There are many discussion and debates about many of them.

The special powers act was passed in 1974. The law is still a much discussed about act in the political arena. An indemnity ordinance was issued that created scope of evading punishment of people who were involved with the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members. Khandker Mushtaq as a president issued the ordinance that time. Upon taking power in 1979, Ziaur Rahman passed the ordinance as a law.

The Awami League government passed the Public Safety Act (Special Provision) in 2000, which drew huge criticisms. Later, the act was annulled. Besides, the Digital Security Act was passed in the 10th parliament in 2018. A huge debate has been going in and abroad about this law. The movement is still ongoing demanding repeal of the act.

Political analysts think the political parties should come forward to make democratic system effective at this golden jubilee of the Jatiya Sangsad. The parliament should be made the centre of all the debates and aspirations of the people of the country.

President Abdul Hamid delivered a speech in the special session of parliament today, Friday, the golden jubilee of the Jatiya Sangsad. The special session of parliament began on Thursday marking the golden jubilee. But the Thursday’s programme was a regular event. The main event marking the golden jubilee will begin through the president’s speech today. The session will continue until Sunday.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the leader of the House in the first parliament. Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina is the leader of the House in the first parliament session called marking it’s golden jubilee.

* The analysis was originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten by Shameem Reza