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State power: He grabbed it all

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  • Isha Khan
    *State power: He grabbed it all* **
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 26, 2010
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      The then chief of army staff, HM Ershad, seized state power overthrowing president Abdus Sattar in a military coup and imposed martial law on March 24, 1982.

      Ershad declared himself the chief martial law administrator (CMLA), suspended the constitution -- the supreme law of the land, dissolved the then parliament and the council of ministers appointed by Sattar.

      He proclaimed himself commander-in-chief of the armed forces -- a constitutional position always held by an elected president.

      The general, who repeatedly pledged allegiance to the constitution soon after the assassination of president Ziaur Rahman, captured power by violating the country's supreme charter and military laws.

      On March 24 afternoon, president Sattar, who tried hard to resist the army's ascendancy in the civil administration, was forced to recognise the extra-constitutional takeover and wish them success in an address to the nation.

      Sattar, who was elected president on November 15, 1981, left Bangabhaban after the speech clearing the way for the usurpers to consolidate total authority over the executive and the legislature.

      CMLA Ershad announced that the martial law regulations, orders and instructions to be made by him would be the country's supreme law and sections of other laws inconsistent with them would be void.

      The martial law proclamation became the source of laws. CMLA Ershad started making laws at his will through martial law regulations, orders and ordinances to rule Bangladesh.

      In April the same year, Ershad amended the March 24 proclamation and made a regulation, dubbed as mini-constitution, detailing the procedure to rule the country.

      Enforcement of the mini-constitution was subject to the martial law proclamation and regulations.

      He took nearly two years to set his eye on the office of the president that he had already made subservient to the CMLA.

      He had installed Justice Abul Fazal Mohammad Ahsanuddin Choudhury as the president on 27 March 1982.

      Ahsanuddin did not have any authority as the martial law proclamation categorically said the president would not exercise any power or perform any function without advice and approval of the CMLA.

      Ershad vested the executive power in the CMLA through a regulation on April 11, 1982, paving the way for him to exercise power either directly or through people authorised by him.

      The order vested legislative powers in the CMLA. He took the authority to revive the constitution fully or partially. Its enforcement was subject to the martial law proclamation, regulations and orders made by the CMLA.

      The general was not satisfied enough with the power and office he had already held. He forced president Ahsanuddin to resign on December 11, 1983 and assumed the office of the president the same day in addition of the post of CMLA.

      There was no oath-taking ceremony. Ershad offered a special munajat at Bangabhaban after assuming the office of president. He however administered oath of office to the members of the council of ministers.

      They all took oath in the name of Allah to perform duties in line with the March 24 proclamation. Tenure of membership of the council of ministers would depend on the president's wish.

      Ershad amended the martial law regulation empowering the president to promulgate ordinances on any matter. An ordinance would have the same effect of a law as an act of parliament.

      Before capturing power, Ershad had openly demanded a special role of the army in the civil administration within a democratic constitutional framework.

      On November 28, 1981 the day after Sattar had formed a 42-member council of ministers, Ershad sent a statement from the Dhaka army headquarters to editors of national dailies and news agencies to make clear the armed forces' view on the civil administration.

      He stated that there must be constitutional provisions to specify military's role in the society. He suggested placing this matter before a presidential committee for in-depth study.

      Many politicians and social scientists outright rejected Ershad's proposal that called for changing the constitution's basic structure to incorporate a political role for the military.

      President Sattar was reluctant to proceed with the army chief's proposal.

      Ershad divided the country into five zones to enforce martial law after seizing power.

      He appointed military officials as deputy chief martial law administrators, zonal martial law administrators, sub-zonal martial law administrators, and district martial law administrators to rule the country.

      He regulated posting and transfer of the military officials engaged in the civil administration by issuing martial law regulations from time to time.

      Military personnel were given civil posts while civil servants at all levels became accountable to them. Committees and martial law teams were formed at several levels to probe the affairs of civil agencies and institutions to keep them under control.

      The Supreme Court ceased to derive any power from the constitution that was suspended following the March 24 proclamation.

      People's fundamental rights were suspended. They were not allowed to go to the court seeking remedy against violation of any right.

      Through an amendment to the martial law proclamation, Ershad seized the power to make appointments to constitutional posts of the chief justice and judges of the Supreme Court, the chief election commissioner and Commission members, comptroller and auditor general, the chairman and members of the Public Service Commission.

      A person appointed to any constitutional post would have to take oath to perform duties with honesty in accordance with the March 24 martial law proclamation.

      In January every year, the Supreme Court was to submit an annual statement to the CMLA giving the number of cases instituted or filed and disposed of by its all divisions in the preceding year.

      The CMLA held the authority to remove the chief justice on grounds of incapability to function.

      The martial law tribunals constituted to hold trials of various offences became superior to other courts.

      According to the martial law regulations, the law declared by the Appellate Division would have bindings on the High Court Division while the law declared by either division would have bindings on all courts, other than martial law tribunals.

      Ershad, who overthrew an elected government and suspended the constitution, finally tried to give legitimacy to his regime.

      The regime held a public referendum on March 21, 1985. It claimed Ershad obtained 94.14 percent "yes votes" in favour of his rule in the referendum with a voter turnout of 72 percent.

      Ershad endeavoured to proceed with his scheme of holding a presidential election.

      But the Awami League-led eight party alliance, the BNP-backed seven party alliance and the left-leaning five party alliance forced Ershad to go for a third Jatiya Sangsad election before the presidential election.

      The third parliamentary election was held on May 7, 1986 and the government sponsored Jatiya Party won majority in the poll widely criticised for electoral irregularities.

      In August 1986, Ershad stepped down as chief of army staff and joined the Jatiya Party formally.

      Ershad contested the presidential election as JP candidate in October, 1986. He emerged victorious from the poll boycotted by all major political parties.

      Ershad summoned the second session of the third parliament on November 10, 1986 after being elected president. He started reviving the constitution in phases from 1985 exercising his power as CMLA.

      The total revival of the constitution came on November 10, 1986 when martial law was withdrawn by a proclamation. Parliament passed the constitution's seventh amendment act, ratifying the March 24 proclamation and validating all orders and actions made under the proclamations, regulations and orders.

      The amendment also precluded the court's jurisdiction from reviewing any action of the military regime.
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