Bangladesh Table of Contents
Hussain Muhammad Ershad, president of Bangladesh
Courtesy Bangladesh Ministry of Information
The president, who must be at least thirty-five years old, is directly elected by all voters for a five-year term, and according to the provisions of the Sixth Amendment (1981) he may be reelected. He is commander in chief of the armed forces, oversees the conduct of all foreign affairs, appoints the vice president for a five-year term, and has the power to convene and dissolve Parliament. The president also chooses cabinet ministers, who run the government bureaucracy; heads a secretariat that devises money bills for introduction into Parliament; and appoints the members of the Elections Commission, who supervise all aspects of elections. In addition, the president appoints, without the need for parliamentary approval, Supreme Court justices and lower court judges. Parliament, in turn, can only impeach the president with a two-thirds vote and can only remove the president from office because of malfeasance or illness with a vote of three-fourths of its members.
The president has a number of extraordinary constitutional means of wielding power and influence. In the case of a constitutionally defined "grave emergency" threatening "the security or economic life of Bangladesh," the president may issue a proclamation of emergency, which eliminates all restrictions on state power and the protection of fundamental rights. A state of emergency may last 120 days, or longer with Parliament's approval. If the president determines that "immediate action" is necessary, he may promulgate any ordinance he wants, as long as it is laid before Parliament for approval at its next session--that is, if it has not already been repealed. Added to the considerable power of being able to place persons in preventive detention, these are a potent array of powers controlled directly, and without means for external control, by the president. The Fifth Amendment (1979) allows the president to amend the Constitution, without action by Parliament, by conducting a general referendum allowing a majority of citizens to approve an amendment. Constitutional amendments approved by Parliament must be passed by a two-thirds majority.
The increase in executive power has been the most important trend in the development of the Bangladeshi Constitution. This increase has developed because, in practice, even the very large scope of presidential authority has proved insufficient to protect civilian governments from military coups or to provide military leaders with sufficient legitimacy to preserve their power. Thus Mujib established a constitutional dictatorship, and both Zia and Ershad ruled for extended periods as chief martial law administrators in order to consolidate their hold over the country and to safeguard their influence by increasing their executive powers. Through the extended periods when Parliament was suspended, proclamations of the president or the chief martial law administrator amended the Constitution, not only to strengthen the office of the president but also to legitimize presidential acts.
Data as of September 1988