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Staff Correspondent: A group of civil society members on Saturday said that the 15th amendment to the constitution, which not only violated the spirit of the Liberation War but also contained contradictory provisions, has pushed the country into deep crisis.
Speaking at a round-table discussion at a city hotel, the speakers suggested that the ruling party should re-write the amendments on the basis of a consensus among different social, political and cultural groups, including the main opposition party.
They also suggested that the two top political leaders – Awami League president and prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson and opposition leader Khaleda Zia – should work together setting aside personal interests to find out an amicable solution to the crisis.
‘The 15th amendment is very difficult to understand as it contains a number of contradictory provisions,’ said legal expert Rafiq-ul-Huq, adding that such an amendment could only be made in the interest of a particular political party.
The Old Chhatra League Foundation organised the round-table discussion on ‘the 15th amendment and
present state of politics’ with Noor-e- Alam Siddique in the chair where lawyer Rokan Uddin Mahmud, journalist Reazuddin Ahmed, lawyer Shahdin Malik, professor Asif Nazrul, lawyer Sarah Hossain, journalists Nurul Kabir, Mizanur Rahman Khan and Peer Habibur Rahman, former army chief Harun-or-Rashid, former BCL leader Rafia Akhtar Dolly, left leader Abdullah Sarker, freedom fighter Mahbubur Rab Sadi and former state minister for foreign affairs Abul Hassan Chowdhury took part in the discussion moderated by Awami league lawmaker Mahmudur Rahman Manna.
‘The constitution has been amended fifteen times over the last four decades and if the trend continues for personal and party interest, nothing would remain of the constitution in the end,’ said Rafique-ul Huq, adding that it was difficult to understand how parliament could pass such an amendment.
He urged the two top political leaders to think of the country’s interests rather than their personal and party interests.
Rafique-ul-Huq said that a ‘child’s game’ had been played over the caretaker government provision which stunned many.
‘Parliament made the amendment without waiting for the full judgment of the court, which indicates that personal and party interests were behind the decision,’ he said.
The veteran legal expert made a strong appeal to the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to work together setting aside their personal rivalries for the sake of democracy and for the greater interest of the country.
Senior lawyer Rokan Uddin Mahmud said that the 15th amendment did not reflect the people’s aspirations rather it was a reflection of arrogance of power.
‘The 15th amendment, especially abolition of the [election-time] caretaker government system divided the nation and caused a tense situation in politics,’ said Mahmud, adding that the special committee formed to amend the constitution had ignored the suggestions of different professional bodies even after taking their opinions on the issue.
‘Under the circumstances it seems the country is headed for situation like 2006,’ he said adding that in such an atmosphere free, fair and credible elections was impossible.
He was critical of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party for not attending the special committee’s meeting and keeping away from the process of the amendment.
‘The government should re-write the amendments for the sake of democracy,’ he added.
News Today editor Reazuddin Ahmed said, ‘None is happy with the amendment. The ruling party general secretary also said he was not happy. So it is meaningless to keep the amendment.’
Terming the 15th amendment unprecedented, lawyer Shahdin Malik said that although secularism had been restored by the amendment, it retained ‘Islam as the state religion’ which was contradictory.
He also said that the nature of illegal takeover of state power was not defined clearly in the amendment and nothing was said about the trial process of such charges.
He was critical of the provisions which said some Articles of the constitution could never be changed and warned that the court could declare the amendments illegal if it finds any inconsistencies in them.
Dhaka University Professor Asif Nazrul termed ‘fascist’ the provisions in Articles 7 (A) and 7 (B) which he said severely curtailed the citizens’ freedom of expression.
‘What Khaleda Zia said about the constitution was political rhetoric and she did not mean she would throw away the charter so it could not be considered as treason,’ he said, adding that if Khaleda’s remarks amounted to treason, ‘all participants in this discussion could be charged with sedition.’
He also said that the articles would encourage illegal military takeover.
Terming a number of provisions, including secularism and state religion contradictory, lawyer Sarah Hossain said that they did not want to throw the constitution into dustbin but these provisions should be consigned to the scrapheap.
New Age editor Nurul Kabir said that the contents of the 15th amendments were far from the spirit of the Liberation War and the amendment was a manifestation of moral and political bankruptcy of Awami League.
‘Bangladesh needs to re-write the constitution to introduce a genuine representative democracy, egalitarian economy and secular culture,’ he said, adding that instead of throwing the constitution into dustbin, it should be preserved as an example of poor intellectual exercise and politics of convenience.
Journalist Mizanur Rahman Khan said that the provisions that did not allow any amendment to at least six dozens of Articles could not be accepted.
Former army chief Harun-or-Rashid said that Bismillah had been retained in the constitution to mollify a particular group and called for repeal of the amendment.
Journalist Peer Habibur Rahman said that if criticism of the constitution was treason, the co-chair of the special committee to amend constitution should face the same charge for not signing in original constitution of 1972.
Abul Hassan Chowdhury called for full restoration of the constitution of 1972 to uphold the spirit of the Liberation War.