The Bangladesh Parliament has passed a crucial amendment to the Constitution, scrapping the caretaker government system for holding polls and restoring secularism but retaining Islam as the state religion.
Under the caretaker system, introduced in 1996, general elections are overseen by non-partisan caretaker governments.
The Constitution (15th Amendment) Bill, 2011 also brings in some other fundamental changes in the context of the liberation war against Pakistan, bringing back some principles which were deleted during military-rule. The Constitution now also acknowledges the country's Independence War hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the Father of The Nation.
The Bill was passed by division vote with a majority of 291-1 for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling alliance. However, amendments moved by two ruling alliance leaders opposing Islam as the state religion and religion-based politics were rejected. The Constitution, however, upholds equal rights and dignity for people of all religion. To prevent the misuse of religion, a ban has been imposed on terrorism and militancy.
The Bill was passed amid protests from various quarters including the BNP-led opposition, which has been boycotting the House since the current session began in May. The BNP, which has been opposing the annulment of the caretaker system, was asked by the ruling alliance to put forward an alternative but it did not.
The constitutional changes incorporate strict provisions against military takeovers, stating that capture of state power and suspension or staying the operation of the Constitution will be treated as treachery and a subversive act. Parliament has been empowered to hand down maximum penalty to those usurping state power.