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AL forgets pledges for a strong Sangsad

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THE Awami League-led government seems to have forgotten its electoral pledge to make parliament effective. It has clearly done quite the opposite over the last three years, as evidenced by its rejection of some crucial proposals to strengthen the house, Shakhawat Liton writes in The Daily Star.

In the run-up to the December 29 parliamentary polls, the AL promised to take “all necessary steps for making parliament effective”. It stated: “Parliament will be made effective and the government will be made accountable for all its activities.”

The AL also pledged to allow MPs to express differing opinions, except for some specific subjects related to the security of the state.

Three years on, the reality is quite something else. The pervasive confrontational culture in politics has returned vigorously, diminishing the prospects for change, owing to the government’s indifference to taking measures in line with its electoral pledges.

And the result is obvious: the BNP-led opposition MPs have already boycotted fourth-fifths of the sittings of the current parliament, and have raised a variety of demands in their partisan interests.

The ruling AL, however, took no effective measures to bring the opposition MPs back to the house by negotiating over their demands, although similar practices in the past had prevented parliament from functioning effectively.

Not only that, the government brushed aside a number of significant proposals to strengthen the house, thereby paying no heed to its electoral pledges.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not agree to the proposal prepared by the parliamentary special committee for constitutional amendments last year over restoring parliament’s authority to remove officials holding constitutional posts.

Hasina, also leader of the house, did not consent to another proposal aimed at bringing an end to the pervasive culture of parliament boycott by reducing the scope for MPs to remain absent from parliamentary proceedings.

At present, lawmakers who remain absent from parliament without leave for 90 consecutive sitting days will lose their seats. The special committee had proposed making it 90 calendar days.

Additionally, Hasina did not agree with other proposals of the committee, such as those relating to more freedom for MPs to express their opinion in parliament.

At the same time, her cabinet rejected a proposal regarding the enactment of a law in line with the constitution to empower parliamentary standing committees assigned by the House to oversee the government’s functions.

In the absence of the law, a number of parliamentary bodies could not ensure the presence of some influential people before them despite the fact that they were summoned by the bodies. This failure demonstrated the inherent weakness of the committee system.

The current parliament, however, brought about some major changes to the constitution by enacting the 15th amendment last year. It introduced provisions for stringent punishment against any extra-constitutional takeover of state power and restricting the state of emergency to a maximum of 120 days following its imposition.

The changes restored secularism and the original preamble in the constitution. But by abolishing the caretaker government system, the current parliament rendered the future course of national politics volatile. Fears of political unrest centering on the forthcoming parliamentary polls without the caretaker government system are now beginning to arise.

Moreover, the ninth parliament in an inexplicable manner circumscribed the authority of future parliaments by imposing a ban on the amendment of around 50 articles of the constitution.

Outside parliament, the unruly and controversial activities of some MPs, almost all of whom belong to the ruling AL, has tainted the image of the house. But the JS amended the constitution in such manner as to ensure that MPs can remain in office during the next parliamentary polls.

In the last three years, most MPs spent much of their time and energy in fruitless criticism of their rivals, demonstrating a lack of patience and tolerance and dodging the responsibility of enacting laws and overseeing the executive.

If things go on as they have so far, the remaining two years of the current parliament may not witness any significant change. And in that case the current parliament may come up against a situation worse than that faced by parliaments preceding it since the elections of 1991.

In previous parliaments, the ruling party, despite having an overwhelming majority, failed to a great extent to deliver on people’s expectations. For their part, the opposition parties opted to take to the streets most of the time rather than staying in the house.

Considering all previous records, people’s expectations were high when the long awaited ninth parliament began its journey on January 25, 2009.

The formation of all the parliamentary standing committees in the first session, with the opposition BNP having its own lawmakers as chiefs of three committees, was a brighter side of the present parliament, at least initially.

But this ray of hope could not last in the face of growing animosity between the AL and the BNP. At the very beginning of the new parliament, the two parties engaged in an unseemly squabble over seating arrangements in the House.

The conflict over seating arrangements was resolved subsequently, but not before it exposed the deep divisions between the AL and the BNP, thus frustrating people’s expectations of change.


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