The role of the president has been changed thrice since emergence of Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh started its journey with a parliamentary system of government where the president was a nominal head of the state while all the executive powers were vested in the prime minister. In 1974, the government under prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman switched from parliamentary to presidential system. It was reverted to parliamentary system in 1991 when Khaleda Zia became the prime minister of the country through parliamentary election.
The President is the head of state, a largely ceremonial post elected by the parliament. However the President's powers are substantially expanded during the tenure of a caretaker government, which is responsible for the conduct of elections and transfer of power. The officers of the caretaker government must be non-partisan and are given three months to complete their task. This transitional arrangement is an innovation that was pioneered by Bangladesh in its 1991 election and then institutionalised in 1996 through its 13th constitutional amendment.
In the caretaker government, the president has control over the Ministry of Defence, the authority to declare a state of emergency, and the power to dismiss the Chief Adviser and other members of the caretaker government. Once elections have been held and a new government and Parliament are in place, the president's powers and position revert to their largely ceremonial role. The Chief Adviser and other advisers to the caretaker government must be appointed within 15 days after the current Parliament expires.
Presidential elections take place every five years. The prime minister is then appointed by the president. The prime minister then selects a cabinet, which the president will appoint. All judges, including the Chief Justices, are appointed by Bangladesh's president. The Constitution of Bangladesh from 1972 has been amended on thirteen occasions. Bangladesh's laws have a founding in the English common law. However family law is rooted in religious scripts and may vary from one community to the next.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to office with immense personal popularity but had difficulty quickly transforming this support into political legitimacy. The 1972 constitution created a strong prime ministership, an independent judiciary, and a unicameral legislature on a modified British model. More importantly, it enunciated as state policy the Awami League's four basic principles—nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy.
The Awami League won a massive majority in the first parliamentary elections in March 1973. It continued as a mass movement, espousing the cause that brought Bangladesh into being and representing disparate and often incoherent elements under the banner of Bangla nationalism. No other political party in Bangladesh's early years was able to duplicate or challenge its broad-based appeal, membership, or organizational strength.
The new government focused on relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of the country's war-ravaged economy and society. Economic conditions remained tenuous, however, and food and health difficulties continued to be endemic. In 1974, Mujib proclaimed a state of emergency and amended the constitution to limit the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, establish an executive presidency, and institute a one-party system. Calling these changes the "Second Revolution," Mujib assumed the presidency. All political parties were dissolved except for a single new party, the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), which all members of parliament were obliged to join.
Assassination of Mujibur Rahman Implementation of promised political reforms was slow, and Mujib increasingly was criticized. In August 1975, he was assassinated by mid-level army officers, and a new government, headed by a former associate, Khandakar Moshtaque, was formed. Successive military coups occurred on November 3 and 7, resulting in the emergence of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ziaur Rahman (Zia), as strongman. He pledged the army's support to the civilian government headed by the president, Chief Justice Sayem. Acting at Zia's behest, Sayem then promulgated martial law, naming himself Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA).
Ziaur Rahman was elected for a 5-year term as president in 1978. His government removed the remaining restrictions on political parties and encouraged opposition parties to participate in the pending parliamentary elections. More than 30 parties vied in the parliamentary elections of February 1979, but Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won 207 of the 300 elected seats.
Acting behind the scenes of the Martial Law Administration (MLA), Zia sought to invigorate government policy and administration. While continuing the ban on political parties, he sought to revitalize the demoralized bureaucracy, to begin new economic development programs, and to emphasize family planning. In November 1976, Zia became Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and assumed the presidency upon Sayem's retirement 5 months later, promising national elections in 1978.
Zia moved to lead the nation in a new direction, significantly different from the ideology and agenda of Sheikh Mujib. He issued a proclamation order amending the constitution, increasing the direct influence and role of Islam on the government. In the preamble, he inserted the salutation "Bismillahir-Rahmaanir-Rahim" (In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful). In Article 8(1) and 8(1A) the statement "absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah" was added, replacing the commitment to secularism. Socialism was redefined as "economic and social justice." Zia further introduced provisions to allow Muslims to practice the social and legal injunctions of the Shariat and Sunnah. In Article 25(2), Zia introduced the principle that "the state shall endeavour to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity." Zia's edits to the constitution redefined the nature of the republic from the secularism laid out by Sheikh Mujib and his supporters. Islamic religious education was introduced as a compulsory subject in Bangladeshi schools, with provisions for non-Muslim students to learn of their own religions.
In public speeches and policies that he formulated, Zia began expounding "Bangladeshi nationalism," as opposed to Mujib's assertion of a Bengali national identity. Zia emphasised the national role of Islam (as practised by the majority of Bangladeshis). Claiming to promote an inclusive national identity, Zia reached out to non-Bengali minorities such as the Santals, Garos, Manipuris and Chakmas, as well as the Urdu-speaking peoples of Bihari origin. However, many of these groups were predominantly Hindu and Buddhist and were alienated by Zia's promotion of political Islam. In an effort to promote cultural assimilation and economic development, Zia appointed a Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Commission in 1976, but resisted holding a political dialogue with the representatives of the hill tribes on the issue of autonomy and cultural self-preservation. On July 2, 1977 Ziaur Rahman organised a tribal convention to promote a dialogue between the government and tribal groups. However, most cultural and political issues would remain unresolved and intermittent incidents of inter-community violence and militancy occurred throughout Zia's rule.
Reforms and International Relations
Notable mentions of Ziaur Rahman's tenure as a President have been radical reforms both in country's infrastructure and diplomacy. President Zia successfully pointed out the grounds those could be effectively and exclusively decisive for development of Bangladesh and his reforms covered the political, economical, agricultural and military infrastructure of Bangladesh. Reorganization of Bangladesh's international relations are especially mentionable because it had active influence over both economy and politics. He successfully bailed Bangladesh out of the Indo-Soviet bloc and grabbed the distancing strings to put bar on the gradually deterioration of Bangladeshi relations with the Western world. Zia gave attention to the other Eastern superpower China that later helped Bangladesh hugely to recover from economical setbacks and to enrich the arsenal of her armed forces.
The most notable of Zia's reformed diplomacy was establishing a magnificent relationship with the Muslim world as well as the Middle-east. The present bulk overseas recruitment of Bangladeshi migrant workers to several Middle-eastern countries are direct outcome of Zia's efforts those he put to develop a long-lasting relationship with the Muslim leadership of the world. The purpose of Middle-east relations has been largely economical whereas the rapid improvement of relations with China was particularly made to for rapid advancement of the country's armed forces.
Throughout the study of Zia's international relations it could have been suggested that attention to the bigger neighbor India has been largely ignored. But Zia was found to put strong emphasis on regional cooperation particularly for South Asia. It came evident after Zia took initiative to found SAARC. Zia's dream of Bangladesh's involvement in a strong regional cooperation was met after 4 years of his assassination when SAARC got founded on 8 December 1985 with a key role of the then Bangladeshi authroity.
Assassination of Ziaur Rahman
In 1981, Zia was assassinated by dissident elements of the military. Vice President Justice Abdus Sattar was constitutionally sworn in as acting president. He declared a new national emergency and called for elections within 6 months. Sattar was elected president and won. Sattar was ineffective, however, and Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. H.M. Ershad assumed power in a bloodless coup in March 1982.
Like his predecessors, Ershad dissolved parliament, declared martial law, assumed the position of CMLA, suspended the constitution, and banned political activity. Ershad reaffirmed Bangladesh's moderate, non-aligned foreign policy.
In December 1983, he assumed the presidency. Over the ensuing months, Ershad sought a formula for elections while dealing with potential threats to public order.
On January 1, 1986, full political rights, including the right to hold large public rallies, were restored. At the same time, the Jatiyo (People's) Party (JP), designed as Ershad's political vehicle for the transition from martial law, was established. Ershad resigned as chief of army staff, retired from military service, and was elected president in October 1986. (Both the BNP and the AL refused to put up an opposing candidate.)
In July 1987, the opposition parties united for the first time in opposition to government policies. Ershad declared a state of emergency in November, dissolved parliament in December, and scheduled new parliamentary elections for March 1988.
All major opposition parties refused to participate. Ershad's party won 251 of the 300 seats; three other political parties which did participate, as well as a number of independent candidates, shared the remaining seats. This parliament passed a large number of legislative bills, including a controversial amendment making Islam the state religion.
By mid-1990, opposition to Ershad's rule had escalated. November and December 1990 were marked by general strikes, increased campus protests, public rallies, and a general disintegration of law and order. Ershad resigned in December 1990.