Dhaka: Bangladesh’s newly elected lawmakers were sworn-in today, four days after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League bagged a three-fourth majority in the contentious polls, marred by violence and opposition boycott.
Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury administered the oath of office of the new members of parliament in phases, with Prime Minister Hasina leading lawmakers during the ceremony.
Chaudhury then handed flowers to Prime Minister Hasina dressed in a golden saree. 66-year-old Hasina is likely to form her new government on Sunday.
The lawmakers of the AL’s ally Jatiya Party of former president HM Ershad took the oath under the leadership of his wife and newly elected MP Raushan Ershad, fuelling speculation about a rift between the couple. Ershad, who had declined to take part in the elections, too was elected.
In a dramatic episode, Ershad was brought to a military hospital for “treatment” weeks ahead of the polls and the election commission declined to accept his prayers reportedly sent from the facility seeking to withdraw his candidature.
The mass circulation Prothom Alo today said Ershad set four conditions for joining the parliament as he was still being “treated” at the military hospital and playing golf everyday at a nearby golf course “to recover his health” reportedly in line with doctors advice.
According to the report, Ershad demanded quick disposal of pending graft cases against him; appointment of the party leaders, who refrained from contesting the polls in line with his directives, at different state-owned organisations; getting his brother GM Quader elected through a byelection; and making none of the party MPs as ministers.
Raushan earlier appeared to have developed a dispute with her husband on the question of participating in the polls but at a press conference last night she said Ershad advised her to appear as the leader of the opposition in parliament.
Raushan, however, said their Jatiya Party, visibly divided in two camps with one lining up behind her and another behind her husband, was yet to decide if it should join the government as it did during its 2008-2014 tenure.
The oath ceremony came amid BNP allegation that the government violated the constitution by keeping two parliaments alive simultaneously as the tenure of the past parliament would expire on January 24.
But a section of legal experts said there was no constitutional bar for the MPs-elect to taking the oath ahead of the expiry of the tenure of the past parliament.
“There was no constitutional provision that prevents the lawmakers-elect from taking the oath, but the MPs won’t be able to take charge until the ninth parliament is dissolved or its tenure expires on January 24,” legal expert Anisul Huq, himself an MP-elect from the AL, told a newspaper.
Contradicting Huq, jurist Shahdeen Malik said soon after taking oath a lawmaker takes office immediately and therefore the country now have two lawmakers in each constituency.
Senior lawyer Rafique-Ul Huq said the controversy could have been avoided with the dissolution of the ninth parliament ahead of the swearing in ceremony.
The Election Commission yesterday issued a gazette notification on the election of 290 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament in the 10th parliamentary polls. The new members are obliged to take oath within three days of the publication of the gazette.
In the rest 10 seats, elections in eight constituencies were postponed as opposition triggered violence forced suspension of the polls there while two other constituencies required re-elections as Hasina and Ershad, who contested from two seats each, were allowed to retain only one seat each.
Other allies of Awami League like Workers Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal and a breakaway faction of Jatiya Party called JP-Manju, however, were set to join the government as they reportedly preferred not to sit in the opposition bench.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, boycotted the polls after her arch-rival Hasina rejected the opposition’s demand for a neutral caretaker regime for election oversight.
The opposition had demanded postponement of the polls.
Political violence during strikes enforced by the opposition since November have left over 160 people dead.
Hasina has asserted that her re-election in the much-disputed polls was legitimate and appealed to her arch-rival, Zia, to shun “terrorism” and severe ties with the fundamentalist Jamaat to strike a deal on the next elections.