Bangladesh: Constitutional Amendment Rejection Spotlights Power Struggle

Pulack Ghatack
170818-BD-court-620.jpg The Bangladesh Supreme Court voided a constitutional amendment that would have empowered the parliament to impeach high court judges.

A power struggle is under way between two branches of Bangladesh’s government after the nation’s high court voided a constitutional amendment that would have allowed parliament to remove Supreme Court judges.

Leaders of the ruling political coalition, the Awami League, set the stage for a showdown on Sept. 17, 2014, when lawmakers passed the 16th Amendment, empowering the parliament to impeach Supreme Court judges if allegations of incapability or misconduct are proven.

In its unanimous 799-page ruling on July 3, the Supreme Court said giving that power to the legislature or to the executive branch would hamper the basic structure of the constitution requiring equal separation of powers among the three branches of government.

“In that case Lord Acton’s observation, ‘All powers tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely’ will come to play,” Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha wrote in the ruling, referring to the 19th-century British politician.

The threat of impeachment proceedings would subject judges to exploitation by politicians, Sinha said.

“Such a proceeding should be run by judges, not politicians,” he said.

During a news conference later this month, Law Minister Anisul Huq said Sinha’s comments belittled Sheikh Majibur Rahman, the nation’s founder and first president, when the chief justice said that “no nation, no country is made of or by one person … we must keep ourselves free from this suicidal ambition.”

Huq said Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation under Rahman’s leadership.

The judge, he said, also made irrelevant comments and objectionable statements about parliament.

Ruling party leaders supported Huq’s comments and demanded Sinha’s resignation.

Huq, along with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Awami League’s general secretary Obaidul Quader and Attorney General Mahbubey Alam, met President Abdul Hamid on Wednesday and discussed the court’s ruling, officials said.

There were no official statements released regarding the meeting.

The previous Sunday, the law minister told reporters the government would examine whether Supreme Court judges committed any misconduct related to the ruling.

“There is no doubt that the country’s history has been distorted in the observation made in the verdict,” Huq told BenarNews.

Bangladesh established its constitution on Dec. 16, 1972. It provided a parliamentary form of government and conferred power on the parliament to amend the constitution through a two-third majority. Since that time, according to political observers, amendments have been used to serve the interests of the country’s ruler or the ruling party.

‘Not a matter of negotiation’

Former Law Minister Shaffique Ahmed has criticized the actions and remarks made by ruling party leaders as unbecoming and unfortunate.

“They can file review petitions against the verdict. They can even submit a petition seeking to expunge some remarks made in the judgment. But the remarks being made against the chief justice and the judgment is not acceptable,” Ahmed told BenarNews.

Asked about possible solutions to mend the conflict, Monjil Morshed, one of the lawyers who petitioned the court to issue a ruling, said, “It is a court verdict, not a matter of negotiation. The politicians will have to understand this reality. They will have to accept the verdict and stop doing politics over it.

“They can seek review of the judgment,” he said. “But the court should be kept above all kinds of pressures.”

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) welcomed the verdict and attacked the ruling party government for exerting pressure on the Supreme Court to change it.

“It seems that the ruling party is trying to create a violent situation to retain power,” BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told the Daily Star on Thursday.

A.B.M. Khairul Haque, a former chief justice and current chief of the Bangladesh Law Commission, told a news conference on Wednesday the Supreme Court’s ruling was “preconceived, motivated and replete with irrelevant remarks.”

“It seems, Bangladesh is going to be a judges’ republic,” he said, explaining that the high court description of parliament as immature also revealed the immaturity of the judges.

But Sinha, the chief justice under the spotlight for writing the verdict, on Thursday urged everyone not to play any political game over the ruling.

“We welcome constructive criticisms,” he said. “But the judges would not fall into any trap laid by the government or the opposition.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.