Bangladesh is a unitary state and parliamentary democracy. Direct elections in which all citizens, aged 18 or over, can vote are held every five years for the unicameral parliament known as Jatiya Sangsad. The parliamentary building is known as the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban and was designed by architect Louis Kahn. Currently the parliament has 350 members including 50 reserved seats for women, elected from single-member constituencies. The Prime Minister, as the head of government, forms the cabinet and runs the day-to-day affairs of state. While the Prime Minister is formally appointed by the President, he or she must be an MP who commands the confidence of the majority of parliament. The President is the head of state but mainly a 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 institutionalized in 1996 through its 13th constitutional amendment.
The Constitution of Bangladesh was drafted in 1972 and has undergone 15 amendments. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court. Justices are appointed by the President. The judicial and law enforcement institutions are weak. Separation of powers, judicial from executive was finally implemented on 1 November 2007. It is expected that this separation will make the judiciary stronger and impartial. Laws are loosely based on English common law, but family laws such as marriage and inheritance are based on religious scripts, and therefore differ between religious communities.
Major parties in Bangladesh are the Bangladesh Awami League, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI). BNP is led by Khaleda Zia and has politically been allied with Islamist parties like Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami but practice secular politics. Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League aligns with more leftist parties. Hasina and Zia are bitter rivals who have dominated politics for over 15 years; each is related to one of the leaders of the independence movement. Another important player is the Jatiya Party, headed by former military dictator Ershad. The Awami League-BNP rivalry has been bitter and punctuated by protests, violence and murder. Student politics is particularly strong in Bangladesh, a legacy from the liberation movement era. Almost all parties have highly active student wings, and student leaders have been elected to the Parliament.
Two radical terrorist organisations, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), were banned in February 2005. Several small-scale bomb attacks taking place since 1999 have been blamed on those groups, and dozens of suspected members have been detained in security operations, including the heads of those two parties in 2006. The masterminds were tried and executed. The Bangladesh government won praise from world leaders, including Western leaders, for its strong anti-terrorist stance.
On 11 January 2007, following widespread political unrest, a caretaker government was appointed to administer the next general election. The 22 January 2007 election was postponed indefinitely and emergency law declared on 11 January 2007 as the Army backed caretaker government of Fakhruddin Ahmed aimed to prepare a new voter list and crackdown on corruption. They also assisted the interim Government of Bangladesh in a drive against corruption, which resulted in Bangladesh’s position in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index changed from the very bottom, where they had been for 3 years in a row, to 147th in just 1 year. A large alliance led by the Bangladesh Awami League won 29 December 2008 poll, in a landslide victory. They got 230 seats among 300 seats in the parliament.