Monday, March 31, 2008

If they were united!


LIKE MANY other democratic countries in the world, people elect a government in Bangladesh because it is a democracy, which means that the people rule. It is also a representative government because the people elect leaders who represent their viewpoints when making government decisions. It is also a constitutional government because it operates according to a set of laws and principles that are outlined in a document known as the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

“We’re not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done,” said president George W Bush of the United States of America in his sixth State of the Union address on January 23, 2007. Faced with a Democratic Congress, President Bush urged lawmakers to work with him to achieve big things for the American people.

Citizens of any democratic country don’t not care which side of the aisle the lawmakers sit on but in Bangladesh, the country’s politicians always care the specific side of the aisle to sit on. And the result was weak parliament to make any important decision to focus on public viewpoints. A losing/winning parliamentarian may not get his/her desired side of the aisle to sit on, but he/she can respect the public opinion and keep patience and play a good constructive role.

Although Bangladesh started its political journey with a parliamentary system right after independence, but it failed to sustain it. In late 1990, autocratic rule was ultimately defeated by a popular uprising and a general election was held on 27 February 1991. A truly representative House of the Nation (Jatiya Sangsad) thus came into being. To fulfill the long cherished democratic polity, Jatiyo Sangsad amended the constitution. Thanks to the then lawmakers as because a “Parliament System” of government was proposed in the Twelfth Amendment Act in August and this was ratified by a constitutional referendum on September 15, 1991.

That was the first and last time country experienced a remarkable positive unity among the lawmakers and politicians in Bangladesh. Though parliamentary elections were hotly contested and placed, parliament never functioned as an effective accountability mechanism. Regardless of which party was in power, the main opposition party boycotted most of the parliamentary sessions, alleging government repression and impediments to voicing its views.

But the lawmakers from different political parties are now united again in defense of a material gain while they never could reach consensus in matters of national interest during the last 15 years. According to the news, a number of lawmakers of Awami League, BNP and Jatiya Party from the eighth parliament vowed to resist together the government move to vacate the Nam Bhaban flats allocated to them.

The present military backed interim government directed the housing and public works ministry to initiate steps to cancel allotments of Nam flats to former lawmakers occupying those now, and to apply for fresh allotments to the Directorate of Government Accommodation (DGA) and pay the increased rents as the parliament had not been in place for a long time. Presently, ex-lawmakers are occupying about 160 Nam apartments while 90 others are vacant. Government wants to rent these apartments on a temporary basis to government officials of the ranks of deputy secretary and above.

"The move is not legal because only a successive parliament committee, not the housing and public works ministry, not even the speaker of parliament, has the right to change the parliament committee's decision," former AL lawmaker Shajahan Khan said at a press conference at his Nam flat on March 23, 2008. Shajahan including other lawmakers of different political parties further expressed their firm determination to protect the dignity and property of parliament and reminded the government that as per the decision of the parliament committee's 15th meeting on June 11, 2006, the lawmakers of the eighth parliament can use the flats until a gazette notification of the ninth parliament is published.

Very few of general people in Bangladesh can figure out who is right, either government or these ex-lawmakers. People are not of course against any decision that was passed by the parliament. But everyone has a clean question why the lawmakers or politicians didn’t show their unity to keep parliament alive. According to Bangladesh's unique electoral system, a caretaker government is entrusted to oversee the national parliamentary elections, which must be held within ninety days of dissolving a parliament.

The 2006-2007 Bangladeshi political crises began after the term of BNP ended in October 2006 as the then opposition AL and its allies questioned the immediate past Chief Justice's neutrality and accused him of being biased towards BNP. None of them feel national interest and showed utmost patience to come under a common platform. The result was political riots, ban of general elections, which was scheduled to be held on January 22, 2007, and one more fresh declaration of state of emergency on January 11, 2007.

In addition, noble laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus once told to an interview with AFP that there is no ideological thing in the country’s political leader. They are busy to grab power and make money whether they are in power or not. They hardly have time to give any attention to reform anything for public interest. At that time, Abdul Jalil and Mannan Bhuiyan, representing the two rival political dynasties, the AL and BNP respectively, had found a common ground to grind their axes in public whereas a number of political leaders are now behind bars under corruption charges and a number of them have already been sentenced to prison.

On October 1, 2001, Bangladesh’s Awami League (AL) responded to its landslide election defeat by announcing a boycott of parliament by saying that her party would neither take oath as members of parliament nor join the parliament. When Begum Khaleda Zia, chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was in the opposition, she too boycotted parliament.

If these lawmakers or politicians were united at least in the country’s important situation, people wouldn’t have to live without freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of thought and conscience, freedom of speech, or freedom of profession and occupation. There is no parliament in the country more than one and half years.

Moreover, Bangladesh is now experiencing higher inflation rate. According to the Untied Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific reports, Bangladesh’s inflation figure in 2007 at 7.2 per cent, which has already exceeded 10 per cent now, leaving the market volatile. And one of the major factor for this highest inflation rate is the political and market uncertainty.

Lawmakers of different political parties in India always give common opinion when they talk about the Kashmir issue. Bangladeshi lawmakers don’t have any common ground to react positively on issues concerning the people, state, or foreign affairs.

Of course, members of the parliament are entitled to appropriate accommodations, perks, and benefits, but as they are the representatives of the people, they should have to look after the interest of the people. #

March 30, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas, a freelance writer based in New York is a regular contributor for news portals and newspapers in Bangladesh.