Vol. 5 Num 738 Sun. June 25, 2006  
Front Page

Bangabhaban now houses acting, resting presidents

This is how it was supposed to be... upon returning from Singapore, President Iajuddin Ahmed would automatically take the charge of the country's presidency and Acting President Jamiruddin Sircar would go back to being the speaker of the parliament.

The day before the president's return from Singapore on June 20, some senior policymakers had taken exactly the above decision which was approved by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, highly placed sources in the government said.

But the scene changed dramatically overnight. Some other ministers and an influential adviser, on the same night that the decision was taken, prodded by an "aspirant of presidency" (readers can easily guess), held a meeting and planned that the acting president should continue in his post for longer and resumption of the president's office by Iajuddin should be delayed.

One of the arguments was that the acting president should continue in his post longer to provide the ruling BNP with enough time and opportunity to execute its plan to replace the president. An adviser to the government on the following morning met the prime minister and pursued her successfully to that end and the things are now rolling as they planned, sources said.

Amid the dramatic change, President Iajuddin Ahmed was admitted to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka upon his return from Singapore on June 20 and the speaker is continuing to be the acting president. On arrival at Zia International Airport, the president was driven to CMH in a car that carried only the national flag, but the car carrying the acting president at the airport flew the flag of the president.

The ministers, who had initially taken the decision that Iajuddin would resume his duty upon his return from Singapore, were stunned by the sudden change in the decision, sources said.

"The government could have replaced the president through proper steps without getting into the nasty controversy that is now haunting it," a very senior policy maker of the government told The Daily Star.

Amid such a situation, President Iajuddin Ahmed yesterday returned to Bangbhaban and he was driven to Bangabhaban in a car that again carried only the national flag, and not the president's flag.

But he did not take back the charge of presidency raising questions in people's mind about the status of the presidency. Now, President Iajuddin will take rest staying at Bangabhaban and Speaker Jamiruddin Sircar will continue as the acting president in Bangabhaban. This is the first of such a situation in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, yesterday morning the seven-member medical board headed by National Professor Brigadier (retd) MA Malik examined the president's health and suggested that he should be discharged from the hospital.

"The president's health condition is now satisfactory, so we suggested him to go to Bangabhaban. We hope the condition will gradually improve further," Prof Malik told The Daily Star yesterday.

Sources said the medical board will examine the president's health again after two weeks. The president was advised to take rest for eight weeks from the day of his bypass cardiac surgery on May 26 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.

"The president's health condition is now much better. But we suggested him to take rest for four more weeks," another physician told The Daily Star wishing anonymity. "We hope the president will be able to discharge his duties after completion of the rest period."

Meanwhile, the status of the presidency has been a much debated issue recently and the return of President Iajuddin Ahmed to Bangabhaban without taking charge of the presidency deepened the controversy.

"This kind of an incident never occurred. It would be a different matter if the president was in CMH. But he returned to Bangabhaban and he did not say that he needs rest," a former senior bureaucrat told The Daily Star wishing anonymity.

Justice Ghulam Rabbani, former judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, said Iajuddin Ahmed is now the president of the country and there is no scope for the speaker to continue as the acting president. "When the president returned from Singapore the acting president automatically became the speaker again," he said.

"If President Iajuddin Ahmed is unable to do his job, the president must say so himself, and not the doctors, since the president is not in a comma or any other critical situation," Justice Rabbani argued adding, "So far we know the president did not say so. So the speaker cannot act as the president."

However, Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Moudud Ahmed, and Parliamentary Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister Salauddin Quader Chowdhury last week in the parliament said in accordance with the constitution, the speaker is discharging duties as the acting president and the president will resume his office after recovering from his illness.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday on condition of anonymity, a former chief justice echoed them and said there is no controversy over the status of the presidency. Some people are intentionally creating the controversy, he asserted.

"President Iajuddin Ahmed is unable to discharge his duties due to his illness. It does not matter whether the president takes rest at Bangabhaban or in a hospital. The speaker will act as the president until the president resumes his office," he said.

Replying to a query, the former chief justice said it is not mandatory that the president has to say that he wants to take rest. "The physicians have advised him to take rest. It's enough," he argued.

The Daily Star contacted former chief justice also former chief adviser to a caretaker government, Justice Latifur Rahman, but he declined to comment on the matter.