Blow to faith-based politics in Bangladesh

Top court wants Islam dropped from party name

The Supreme Court upheld a 2005 ruling by the High Court throwing out the fifth amendment of the constitution, which had allowed religion-based politics to flourish in the country during the last three decades.
Following the apex court order, dozens of Islamic political parties must drop Islam from their name and stop using religion during their election campaigns, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said.

His comments came as newspapers speculated about the fate of “religion-based” political parties after the apex court earlier this week withdrew a stay on the High Court verdict declaring illegal the fifth amendment to the constitution.

The Fifth Amendment was carried out during late president Ziaur Rahman’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government in 1979, which had allowed the religion-based political parties and added the Arabic “Bismillah-Ar-Rahman-Ar-Rahim” or in the name of God, the most merciful, benevolent in the preamble. Ahmed, however, said the words “Bismillahir Rahman ar Rahim” in the preamble of the constitution would remain intact as the High Court verdict did not say anything about the words and those were part of the constitution’s preamble, not of the “main body”.

“The secularism would automatically be restored in the constitution” once the High Court verdict is implemented, he said.

The fifth amendment had also legitimised subsequent government of General Ziaur Rahman after the August 15, 1975, assassination of Bangladesh’s founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of his family members in a military putsch that had also toppled his post independence Awami League.

More obstacles
But legal experts and political analysts said the process to scrap the Fifth Amendment might face further obstacles as BNP Secretary General Khandakar Delwar Hossain and three pro-BNP lawyers filed two separate petitions with the apex court seeking reinstatement of the stay on the High Court judgement despite the government reluctance to fight the case.

The original constitution of 1972 embodied four fundamental principles of nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism.

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