Are women in Dhaka Bangladesh generally conservative? - the information portal on South Asia

The twelfth constitutional amendment in August 1991 brought about the change from a presidential constitution back to a parliamentary system. While the president is the head of state, executive power rests with the prime minister. A constitutional amendment under the military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad in June 1988 declares Islam the state religion, while at the same time anchoring the right to peaceful practice of other religions in the constitution.

Although the constitution, which is based on the rule of law, provides for a separation of powers, influential representatives of the executive and legislative branches exercise considerable influence on the lower levels of the judiciary in practice. Political life in Bangladesh is undoubtedly determined by an economic and political elite that is heavily family-oriented. Individual powerful families have exercised considerable influence for generations. Although critics accuse the political elite of ignoring the problems of the population, the established forces have been regularly legitimized by elections since 1991. Formally, Bangladesh is undoubtedly a democracy, but the character of the democracy is open to debate.

At the local level, violent and criminal gangs are often in direct contact with those in power. Therefore, citizens often turn their concerns not to state institutions, but to people who can promote their affairs with the help of their influence (clientelism). In addition, several thousand national and international non-governmental organizations in social affairs, welfare and development are an indispensable alternative to the weak government agencies.

legislative branch

The Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban (House of the National Assembly) is the conference building of the National Parliament in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in Dhaka. The building was designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974) and is considered to be one of the largest parliament buildings in the world. Photo: Christoph S. Sprung

According to Article 65 of the Constitution, the legislature of the People's Republic of Bangladesh lies with Parliament (House of the Nation, Bangla: Jatiya Sangsad). This consists of 300 members who are to be elected for five years in general, direct, free and, if possible, equal elections. The minimum age for MPs is 25 years. Voting is based on a relative majority vote, which favors the big parties, as only the winner of one constituency moves into parliament, while the votes for other candidates are "lost".

Since the 14th amendment to the Constitution came into force in 2004, Parliament must have at least 45 women elected officials. In the past eight legislative periods since the state was established, at least 30 seats were reserved for women (with the exception of the first parliament, in which only 15 seats were reserved, and the fourth legislative period, when there was no reservation at all).

After the return to parliamentary democracy after 1991, parliament was constitutionally given back its legislative powers, but since then its work has been regularly paralyzed by the power struggles of the four major parties and their leaders (see below). Political power often means an opportunity for enrichment without the risk of criminal prosecution.


The head of state and head of the executive is formally the president. However, its role is essentially limited to representative tasks. According to Article 48 of the Constitution, he is elected by Parliament for five years and a maximum of two terms of office. The real power center of the executive is the cabinet chaired by the prime minister (since 1991 two women have held the office of Prime Minister, see below).

The cabinet is collectively accountable to parliament and governs on behalf of the president. It is customary (according to the 56th constitutional paragraph) for the leader of the strongest faction in the lower house to be appointed prime minister by the president and charged with forming a government. Although the position of the Prime Minister, modeled on the British cabinet system, is only first among equals, he has a prominent position and thus far more power through the management of cabinet meetings, the right to reshuffle the government and control the secret services, the armed forces and paramilitary units.

Transitional government

With the intention of excluding the possible influence of a government in upcoming parliamentary elections, a unique regulation was passed in the 13th amendment to the constitution of 1996: According to this, a transitional government must be convened within 15 days of the dissolution of parliament and after the end of a legislative period (Caretaker Government) provided by the President. This interim government manages the official business until a new government is elected and sworn in.

The transitional government should consist of a chief advisor (Chief Adviser) and ten other advisors, all of whom are non-party and not older than 72 years and are not allowed to influence the election campaign. According to the constitutional amendment, it is still provided that the president first appoints the most recently retired highest judge (Chief Justice) at the Supreme Court invites you to form the interim government, which will then be formally appointed by the president. Should this former high judge fail to comply, other retired judges of the Court of Appeal should be on Supreme Court be asked to fill the office. If there is still no transitional candidate, it is planned to appoint a qualified citizen or ultimately the president himself as head of the transitional government.

The main task of the transitional government is to ensure that parliamentary elections are conducted peacefully, freely and fairly.


At the head of the jurisdiction is the Supreme Courtwho also oversees the courts at division and district level (see also administrative structure). The Supreme Court is divided into an appeals department and a civil courts department (High court, High Court). The Supreme Court will be given by the Chief Justice (Chief Justice), to which the judges on the two lower levels report directly. The Supreme Court is all so-called lower courts (Subordinate Courts) superordinate.

All judges are appointed and dismissed by the President of the Republic. You are a member of the legal civil service (Judicial Service). The Supreme Court is considered a solid pillar of the rule of law, which is financially dependent on the executive. However, in the past the Supreme Court did not shy away from confrontations with the government.

There is still an interdependence between the executive and the judiciary at the lower levels that should not be underestimated: the local courts (Lower Courts) are completely subordinate to the Ministry of Justice and thus virtually part of the executive branch. In addition, the legal training of many lawyers at this level can hardly be assumed.

In addition, a traditional dispute settlement instrument, the so-called Salish, practiced. Much older than the state and modern jurisprudence, this traditional legal system, corresponding to rural-village morals, acts as a mediator and arbitrator, especially in disputes in matters relating to property or family. Although the Salish is not mentioned within the constitution, the restrictions that apply to village courts in the apply to him Village Courts Ordinance from 1976. Accordingly, no criminal cases may be negotiated (i.e. no compensation for pain and suffering, imprisonment or even death sentences). That the Salish but continues to represent as an effective, informal and indigenous body for resolving conflicts for many citizens, although this includes punishments such as stoning, burning and flogging (often against persons who are considered to be non-religious [Muslim]), is certainly also due to the expensive and often simply corrupt court system.

Fear of the loss of reputation and influence of the old elites often makes them appear as defenders of the old order. The inability, unwillingness and dependency of the judiciary on the executive still stand in the way of a process of transformation towards a modern, impartial and transparent judiciary.

Administrative structure

The administrative structure of central Bangladesh is extremely hierarchical. The most important administrative units are the six administrative districts (Divisions), all of which are named after their largest city. Clockwise, these are Khulna in the southwest, the Rajshahi to the north, the Dhaka division as an eastern neighbor, the northeast Sylhet, the southwest Chittagong and finally the centrally located southern Barisal.

The divisions are in turn subdivided into county-like administrative units, the districts also Zil (l) as or Jilas to be named. These 64 districts are again in several sub-districts, so-called Upzillas divided. In addition, the country is in 490 police districts (Thanas) and has over 68,000 village communities. At the municipal level, the political options are so far very limited.

In the south-eastern mountain region on the border with India and Myanmar, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a special administrative law applies. With so-called Hill Councils the indigenous population was given the possibility of limited self-government.


Although a broad political spectrum with around 100 parties has developed over the past 30 years, which suggests extreme programmatic differentiation, the parties are almost exclusively groupings that gather around a charismatic leader.

The party system is dominated by two major competitors, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP). The highly polarized and not always non-violent disputes about political influence and power in the state take place between the two "people's parties". The competition between these two main actors extends to national unions and student organizations, all of which are party-oriented. In addition, the administration from the central government down to the local level is politicized accordingly. Accordingly, every time there is a change of government, the administration is regularly cleared of party strangers.

Although the political rhetoric suggests clear programmatic differences, there are no major differences along ideological lines between the two major parties. In addition to the usual competition for political benefices, the competition is also intensified by fierce hostility between the two party leaders. Both are the undisputed political heirs to the legacy of their murdered family patriarchs because of their genealogy.

Since its clear election victory on October 1, 2001, the government in Dhaka has been led by the Bangladesh National Party under Begum Khaleda Zia. Together with its coalition partners Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote, and Jatiya Party-N, the BNP holds a two-thirds majority in parliament with a total of 219 seats. With Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote, Islamist parties are taking part in the government for the first time since the country's independence. The opposition, which includes the Awami League, Islami Jatiya Oikya Front, Jatiya Party-M, Sramik Krishak Janata League and seven independents, received over 40% of the vote, but has only 81 seats due to majority voting.

The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) was founded in 1978 by General Ziaur Rahman. The BNP attaches greater importance to a stronger emphasis on Islamic principles and their anchoring in the constitution. In addition, it has close relations with Pakistan in terms of foreign policy (which is worth mentioning in view of the historical formation of the nation state). The party is led by Khaleda Zia, the widow of Ziaur Rahman, who became army chief after the army coup of August 1975 and was president from 1977 to 1981.

The Bangladesh Awami League (AL), the country's oldest national party (founded in 1949 in what was then East Pakistan), has a somewhat more secular orientation than the other parliamentary parties. AL, led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, is traditionally more inclined to India in terms of foreign policy. Hasina is the daughter of AL founding member and state founder Mujibur Rahman, who was murdered during the coup in 1975 - almost all other family members were also murdered. The arguments with Zia are based in particular on the murder of her family, because Hasina is convinced that Ziaur Rahman knew in advance of the assassination attempt on her father and that he was covering up the perpetrators. When Khaleda Zia refused to investigate the incidents during her first term in office from 1991 to 1996, the conflict between the two (parties) intensified.

The Jatiya party was founded in 1986 by the former dictator and president General Hussain Muhammad Ershad to legitimize his power. The party became the strongest party in the People's Chamber after questionable parliamentary elections and a boycott by the two major parties. After Ershad was ousted and Bangladesh returned to parliamentary democracy, the Jatiya Party achieved an election result that was not nearly as strong. Conservative people and people close to the military took over the party leadership from then on. The Jatiya Party was involved in power several times in a row, alternately as a coalition partner of the two major parties. Hussain Muhammad Ershad remains the party's president.

The splinter parties Jatiya Party (Manju) and Jatiya Party (Naziur) emerged from the mother party during various power turmoil over new coalitions.

Anwar Hossain Manju remained in the cabinet of Sheikh Hasina's government as Minister of Information with some followers. While Ershad left the coalition, a wing around Manju split off as Jatiya Party (M) in 1997.

In 2001, a wing led by Naziur Rahman Manjur and Kazi Firoz Rashid also split off from Ershad's mother party as the Jatiya Party (Naziur-Firoz, or simply Jatiya Party-N). With its four mandates, this faction formed a coalition in the BNP-led government alongside Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikyo Jote.

Created in the 1940s by its founder and first leader Maulana Maududi Jamaat-e-Islami (Islamic Party, JI) was directed from Lahore (in today's Pakistan) after the independence of British India in 1947. For ideological and nationalist reasons, JI was banned after Bangladesh gained independence in 1971. Under the banner of Islamic Democratic League, led by Maulana Abdur Rahim, the JI cadre formed again and were legalized in 1976. After some of these members made it into the Jatiya Sangsad through the parliamentary elections of 1979, the JI was ultimately also approved. The party has been involved in various political alliances with the BNP several times since it began its political activities and has been its strongest junior partner in the government since 2001. The JI operates particularly in the economically underdeveloped and peripheral parts of the country and tries to do charitable work in addition to its political work. Since 2000 its chairman (Amir) is Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami.

Media policy

In Bangladesh one can hardly speak of an independent press. Links between newspapers, magazines, business people and parties are strong.

For this reason, newspapers in the print media sector are often oriented towards party political interests. Businesses create newspapers in which journalists write to disseminate the opinions of their employers rather than dare to do critical and independent research. Still, there are local-language and English-language daily and weekly newspapers that are remarkably independent and investigative. Attacks by armed political party cadres or thugs hired by them (so-called Goondas) and religious-fundamentalist movements to (government-) critical journalists are becoming more and more common.

Given that half of the population are not literate, television and radio are the most important media in the country. Due to the technical conditions, only the state-controlled Bangladesh Television (BTV) reaches all television receivers. In this respect, the government largely controls television, but also radio.

The other, private TV channels as well as internationally broadcast channels reach few viewers via cable or satellite.However, because of its greater independence, private television enjoys great popularity with its limited audience.

The extremely popular, independent and terrestrial private television channel "Ekushey TV", which also published statements by the opposition parties, was closed by a court decision immediately after the change of government in 2001. Foreign participation in private broadcasters is permitted.