Hasina for Islam as Bangladesh's State Religion

Dhaka, May 31 (IANS) Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed herself in favour of retaining Islam as the state religion, moving away from the secular provisions in the constitution that were incorporated when country became free in 1971.

Hasina told a special parliamentary committee formed to study changes in the constitution in the light of Supreme Court verdicts delivered in the last one year that her government would like "Bismillah Rahman-ur-Rahim" retained.

Bangladesh's 150 million population is overwhelmingly Muslim, with about nine percent Hindus and the rest Buddhists and Christians.

Secularism was one of the principles enshrined in the constitution drafted under the leadership of the country's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina's father.

Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in August 1975. Subsequent military-ruled governments incorporated religious expressions, amending the constitution and issuing a series of rules between 1975 and 1990.

In two separate judgments, the apex court last year declared all these changes void and asked that the constitution be restored to its original 1972 form.

Hasina has repeatedly assured that her government would retain Islam as the state religion. Her aides have explained that the ethos of the majority of the population could not be ignored or tampered with.

Hasina appeared before the parliamentary committee Monday for four hours.

Rejecting another Supreme Court verdict, she said the system of a caretaker government taking office to conduct elections should be scrapped.

The provision introduced in 1996 has been subject to severe criticism with the loser in each subsequent election rejecting the poll verdict and accusing the caretaker of bias.

The caretaker governments were headed by immediate past chief justices. This became contentious when in 2006 the government of Begum Khaleda Zia gave extension to the incumbent chief justice.

The parliamentary elections were cancelled amid political protests and the caretaker government, meant to be in office for 90 days, continued on for two years.

A recent Supreme Court judgment held the caretaker concept illegal, but said the next two elections be held under this provision.

It also asked parliament to legislate in favour of someone other than a retired chief justice to head the caregaker government.

Hasina Monday said parliament and her government were not bound to abide by the twin stipulations.

"The next parliamentary election will be illegal if it is held under a caretaker government," said Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, a nephew of Hasina and one of the representatives of the ruling alliance on the parliamentary committee, according to the Daily Star.


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