The republic of Bangladesh has a non-executive president as its head of state. The president is elected by the national parliament for a five-year term.
Executive power resides in the prime minister who heads a council of ministers (cabinet). Although the president appoints members of the cabinet and the judiciary and has the power to dissolve parliament, the advice of the prime minister must be sought for all presidential acts.
The prime minister is appointed by the president as the member of parliament who is most likely to command a majority.
The unicameral parliament (the House of the Nation) has 300 members elected by universal adult franchise for a term of five years. An additional 50 seats are reserved for women who are appointed by the parties in proportion to the elected members. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
The Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment (1996) requires a non-partisan caretaker administration to oversee the election process.
The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, a nationwide system of criminal and civil courts, and magistrates’ courts in the major cities.
The Supreme Court comprises the Appeallate Division and the High Court Division. The seat of the Supreme Court is the capital, but sessions of the High Court Division may be held elsewhere. The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president.
In May 2007 the caretaker government created special courts to adjudicate in high-profile corruption cases.
In November 2007 the caretaker government declared the independence of the judiciary from the executive. Although a directive to this effect had been issued by the Supreme Court eight years previously, its implementation had been successfully obstructed by previous elected governments.
Local governance is by village and district councils. The powers of local government bodies include the power to impose taxes for local purposes.
Bangladesh (meaning ‘land of Bengal’ in the official Bengali language) is a relatively new state. When India became independent from the United Kingdom in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into two sovereign states, India and Pakistan. The new state of Pakistan consisted of two separate blocs, West and East, separated by many thousands of miles. In 1971 East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan, and henceforth called itself the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Although the state religion is Islam, the practice of other religions is tolerated.
In 1971 Tajuddin Ahmad became the first prime minister of Bangladesh.
No one party has maintained long-term political dominance in Bangladesh. In 1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the Awami League, won an electoral majority in the Pakistan general election on a platform demanding greater autonomy for East Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib was assassinated in 1975, shortly after he became the first president of Bangladesh. The 1979 general election brought the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to government. After a period of political unrest in the 1980s, in 1991 a national referendum endorsed a return to parliamentary democracy with a non-executive president.
The general election of 2008, held with Commonwealth observers present, was won by the alliance led by the Awami League. The turnout of the electorate was estimated at 70 per cent.