Hasina to meet panel on Islamic references in constitution

April 27th, 2011 - 12:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Sheikh Hasina Dhaka, April 27 (IANS) Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will Wednesday appear before a parliamentary committee examining whether to retain or remove Islamic religious references in the country’s constitution.

Political parties are so far divided on the issue. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has declined to participate, saying the entire debate was “motivated”.

Its chief and former prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, refused to appear before the committee.

The panel is reviewing the constitution in the light of a Supreme Court verdict last year that annulled several amendments brought about during 1975-90 when Bangladesh was a military-led nation. The constitution was originally drafted in 1972 with `secularism’ as one of its basic pillars.

A country with 90 percent plus Muslim population, Bangladesh was declared an Islamic Republic with ’secularism’ being replaced by references to Allah.

Hasina, who is also chief of the ruling Awami League, “is likely to clarify her party’s stance on some crucial issues including state religion and caretaker government system”, The Daily Star said Wednesday.

Jatiya Party, a major component of the Hasina-led ruling alliance, has proposed retaining Islam as state religion, keeping the phrase “Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim” above the preamble of the constitution and imposing no ban on religion-based political parties.

The party is headed by H.M. Ershad, the longest-serving military ruler and head of the state, during whose tenure many Islamiic symbols and motifs were added to Bangladesh’s polity.

However, the left-leaning Workers Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Ganotanri Party and National Awami Party have strongly opposed the Jatiya Party proposals.

Their stance on the issues reflected the views of eminent jurists who joined the talks with the special committee Sunday. The jurists also opposed the existing provision allowing former chief justices to head caretaker governments.

In an editorial Wednesday, The Daily Star urged Zia to join the talks to determine “how serious” the prime minister is about changes in the constitution.

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