Post-SC verdict, EC needs to decide JI fate: Bangla minister

In a landmark verdict, the apex court has banned use of religion in politics.

Dhaka: In the wake of the landmark Supreme Court verdict banning "use of religion" in politics, Bangladesh`s independent Election Commission should review the registration of the country`s main Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islam (JI), Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said here on Sunday.

"It is now the duty of the Election Commission to review if Jamaat and other such parties could still be registered with them," Ahmed said.

He said the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court declared "illegal" the 5th amendment to the Constitution, made in 1979 to legitimise the country`s post-1975 martial law regimes and allow religion-based politics, which meant no political party could carry out their activities using religion.

"It now appeared that the Jamaat is no more competent to be registered with the Election Commission as the very title of the party tends to exploit the religion, which is conflicting to the spirit of the Constitution restored after the apex court judgement," the minister said.

Election commissioner Sakhawat Hossain, however, declined to comment immediately on Ahmed`s remarks, but a senior EC official preferring anonymity said any party could do politics "even without the registration with the commission", though they would not be allowed to take part in the polls.

"No law of the land authorised the Election Commission to slap a ban on religion-based politics," the official said.

But the Law Minister said the EC could do its part by scrapping JI`s registration while the government "under the Constitution can do the rest" to disqualify the religion-based parties from doing politics.

Ahead of the December 29, 2009 general elections that brought Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina`s ruling Awami League to power with a three-fourth majority, the EC, under an amended election law, had asked JI to amend its Constitution when the party renamed itself as `Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami` while it was previously called `Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh`.

JI, a crucial ally of main opposition BNP of ex-premier Khaleda Zia, at that time was allowed to take part in the polls under a condition that it would also require to bring a massive change in its Constitution, including clauses promising to establish "the rule of Allah" by July this year, as those were contradictory to the democratic spirit of the country`s Constitution.

The party, however, sought an extended time for reviewing its Constitution as it was in turmoil with four of its top leaders, including its detained chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, awaiting trial in several cases including charges of "crimes against humanity" during 1971 Liberation War when they were opposed to Bangladesh`s independence.

The Appellate Division, on July 27, issued the full text of its February 02 judgement declaring illegal the 5th amendment to the Constitution.

The Law Minister, however, said the words `Bismillahir Rahman ar Rahim` or `In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful` above the preamble of the Constitution would remain intact as those were part of the preamble and not of the "main body”.

"The secularism would automatically be restored in the Constitution in line with the Liberation War spirit with this judgement ... formation of a democratic, non-communal society where religion is the matter of anybody`s private affair is also the spirit of Islam," he said.

The ruling Awami League widely welcomed the judgement but reports quoting several government leaders, however, said Bangladesh was unlikely to ban religion-based parties.

"I am not in favour of banning any political party," Prime Minister Hasina was quoted as telling Awami League MPs last week.

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


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