Would President Abdul Hamid be competent and capable enough to unite the nation?

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President Abdul Hamid 

Barrister Nazir Ahmed

Under the current parliamentary system of government, the President is the constitutional Head of the State of Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh. He is elected by the Members of Parliament in accordance with law for a term of five years (Article 48 of the Constitution). Upon the expiry of his term, the President shall continue in his office until his successor enters upon office [Article 50(1) of the Constitution]. However, the President cannot be elected for more than two terms, whether or not the terms are consecutive [Article 50(2) of the Constitution]. The position of the President is considered as a ceremonial one like the British Sovereign/Monarch. The main executive power of the State is exercised by the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. The President is required to act on the advice of the Prime Minister except in two situations: in the appointment of the Prime Minister under Article 56(3) and of the Chief Justice under Article 95(1) [Article 48 (3) of the Constitution].

Nevertheless the position of the President is the most important position [to great extent the most powerful position as well] in Bangladesh. He takes precedence over all other persons in the State [Article 48 (2) of the Constitution]. All executive actions are taken in the name of the President [Article 55 (4) of the Constitution]. He may request the Prime Minister to submit any matter for consideration of the Cabinet [Article 48(5) of the Constitution]. Neither Money Bill nor any Bill involving expenditure from public fund can be introduced in Parliament without the recommendation of the President. The President has power to grant pardons, reprieves, and respites and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority (Article 49 of the Constitution). He is not answerable to any court including the Supreme Court for anything done or omitted to be done in the exercise or purported exercise of the functions of his office [Article 51(1) of the Constitution]. The same immunity is not even given to the Prime Minister. Not only this, during his term of office no criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President in, and no process for his arrest or imprisonment shall issue from, any court [Article 51(2) of the Constitution].

Furthermore, the President will by rules specify the manner in which the orders and other instruments made in his name shall be attested or authenticated and the validity of any order or instrument so attested or authenticated cannot be called in question in any court on the ground that it was not duly made or executed [Article 55(5) of the Constitution]. Under the Article 55(6) of the Constitution, the President is to make rules for allocation and transaction of the business of the government which is called the Rules of Business. These rules determine which authority is to perform what function of the government. When Parliament stands dissolved or when it is not in session, the President may promulgate Ordinance if it is satisfied that immediate action is necessary (Article 93 of the Constitution). The President may proclaim emergency in the whole or in part of Bangladesh with prior counter signature of the Prime Minister in the Proclamation of Emergency (Article 141A of the Constitution) which will have effect of suspending some fundamental rights (Article 141B of the Constitution).

The above information and analysis clearly show that the President in Bangladesh is the highest position holder in the Republic. All public acts are carried out (by way of Order) in his name. He is powerful too. He becomes more powerful when the Parliament stands dissolved or when it is not in session. Particularly, the President becomes the most powerful person when caretaker or interim government takes over the charge. The non party caretaker or interim government is collectively responsible to the President.  The President becomes the supreme commander of the combined armed forces. All eyes are focused on him. He is required to show his skills, wisdom, fairness and impartiality in the environment of our political hostility and mistrust among political parties and leaders. He is also required to be brave and farsighted. If needed he would be required to challenge the powerful persons/authority (i.e. Army Generals) and make pre-emotive strike/action for the greater interest of the nation. He should come out of his political affiliation, if any, and acts like a Statesman. To do these all, the President should be a right, proper and fit person. Conversely, the weak, back boneless, physically incapable President may do irreparable loss and damages to the nation. Previous history shows us how Bangladesh had suffered due to the role played by the weak, incapable and back boneless President, from which lessons need to be learned. Otherwise, history will repeat itself.

The performance of President Justice Abdus Sattar and President Iajuddin Ahmed is clear to us. The country had gone backward, the constitution was violated and mutilated and, above all, the nation suffered irreparable damages due to their weakness, physical incapability and back boneless. How dare the then Lieutenant General Hussain Mohammed Ershad could challenge (and take over from) directly elected President and declare martial law within a year of general election? He was showing symptoms of his high political ambition months before declaring martial law. President Sattar could do nothing. Experts and analysts believed (and still believe) if a strong President was in power at that time, the history of Bangladesh could have been different. The country would not probably have gone under martial law/dictatorship for nearly a decade. The President could have brought the situation under control by sacking Lieutenant General Ershad and other responsible Generals and by installing his loyal ones in key positions. To do this the President was required to be strong, brave and far sighted. He should have taken pre-emotive actions. Did President Sattar have those capacity and capability?

Similarly, 1/11 could have been avoided if President Iajuddin Ahmed was a strong, dynamic, farsighted and physically competent President. President Iajuddin Ahmed was mentally and physically so weak and incapable that he did not even have grudge or ability to challenge Lieutenant General Moin U Ahmed and his comrades, let alone sacking them or averting proclamation of emergency. During the two years’ unconstitutional rule of the military backed caretaker government, almost everything was done for/in the name of the President. But the President neither understood what was being done in his name nor had any capability [due to age and physical illness  he had diabetes, hearrt operation and other severe complications in the body] to understand. This is clearly proved from what he said in an interviews with the Daily Manab Jamin and other media. Military backed caretaker has done a lot of things in his name keeping him in complete dark.  In the interview he admitted that he was not aware of many things, but we know those were done in the name or under the order of the President.

By compare and contrast, President Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed and President Abdur Rahman Biswash have shown their strength, backbone, wisdom and ability. Following the defeat in General Election in 2001, Awwami League had immediately put strong and undue pressure on President Shahabuddin Ahmed to cancel the election results. Late SMS Kibria and Abdus Samad Azad played vital/active role at that time in pressuring President Justice Sahahbuddin Ahmed. He was even threatened and reminded who had brought him upto that stage [made him the President!]. President Shahabuddin Ahmed spent sleepless nights but he did not bow to their undue pressure, demand and threat. Consequently he had to tolerate continuous baseless accusation and swearing in inappropriate/offensive languages from the then Opposition Leader (current Prime Minister) and some Awami League supported columnists like Abdul Gaffer Choudhury. Keeping utmost tolerance and patience, President Shahabuddin Ahmed had no alternative [due to constant baseless accusations] but to give a firm statement in the strongest possible terms condemning and reputing baseless accusations.

Similarly, President Abdur Rahman Biswas had shown his backbone, strength and capability in 1996. Had President Biswas not been able to successfully tackle the coup attempt by the then Lieutenant General ASM Nasim (Chief of Army), the history of Bangladesh would have been different. Bangladesh would have fallen once again under the irremovable stone of military rule. According to Major General (Rtd) Motin PSC, one of the main reasons for failure of Lieutenant General Nasim’s coup attempt was his underestimation of the capability and qualities of the then President Abdur Rahman Biswas (“Seen on my eyes of failed military coup: 1996” a book written by Major General (Rtd) Motin, one of the key players of disrupting 1996 military coup and Advisor to the last military backed caretaker government). Major General (Rtd) Motin praised President Biswas in his book as being brave, farsighted, having wisdom and a man with strong backbone. Major General (Rtd) Motin, who was himself a brave freedom fighter with Bir Pratik title, also said that if President Biswas had negative image for his role during 1971, he had overcome this by the patriotic role he played to save the country from a catastrophe.

We all know the background of our current President: where he came from and what strengths and weaknesses he has. Whether he can play an active role in forthcoming national crisis remains yet to be seen.  We know he is a political man, right from the beginning of his career.  At crucial time whether he can come out of his political affiliation/conviction for the greater interest of the nation still remains to be seen. However, we cannot be assured by seeing his recent past history. Last year in Parliament, some MPs termed Justice AHM Samsudding Chowdhury Manik as a sadist, mad and mentally imbalanced.  They questioned his ability and quality to become a High Court Judge.  They demanded the Speaker to pass a unanimous resolution in the House condemning him and urging the President for constituting Supreme Judicial Council to remove Justice Manik. 

On fully agreeing with the MPs, the then Speaker Abdul Hamid gave a lengthy ruling in the Parliament that Justice Manik had, among others, violated the Constitution and he (the Speaker) left the matter to the Chief Justice for taking appropriate action.  Now the same Speaker after being the Acting President, following the death of late President Zillur Rahman, made/appointed Justice Manik as the Judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.  Now the question is: who is right?  Speaker Abdul Hamid? Or Acting President Abdul Hamid?  Clear contradiction is apparent in Mr Abdul Hamid’s stands.  He, as the Acting President, could not maintain his earlier position taken as a Speaker, the Guardian of Parliament.  He could not show his backbone.  His action indicates one of the two things: either (i) his earlier decision/ruling, as the Speaker, was wrong or (ii) he was over ambitious to become the President and thus he compromised his standing by not upsetting the Prime Minister. 

Where is his moral high ground?  Furthermore, the Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP) did neither congratulate President Abdul Hamid nor attended his oath ceremony held at Bangabhaban.  When the former Prime Minister and current leader of the opposition Begum Khaleda Zia went to Bangabhaban to see the dead body of immediate past President late Zillur Rahman few weeks ago, the then Acting President Abdul Hamid did not show due respect and courtesy to her.  Bangladesh is now in serious political turmoil.  Nobody knows what is going to happen next.  In such circumstances, Can President Abdul Hamid unite the nation?  Given the contradictory roles President Abdul Hamid had played in short span of time and the poor moral standing, if any, he had shown, can he stick to his principles and show his backbone in future to solve any political deadlock and bring the opposition parties in confidence?  The nation is eagerly waiting to see.        

History does not give a nation chance again and again. Lessons need to be learned by those in power. A good driver can drive the vehicle to its destination safely and securely. The vehicle can fall into accident or be damaged or even completely destroyed due to incompetent driver. Similarly, the competent and capable President can, by acting like a Statesman, take the nation forward and lead the country in crisis or hostility. But the incompetent, weak and incapable President can only take the country backward and do irreparable damage to the nation. Bangladesh has suffered this at least twice in the past. Can it afford to suffer more?

Barrister Nazir Ahmed is an UK based legal expert, analyst, writer and author.
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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