Monday, June 09, 2008

Constitution review: Not a worthy interest right now


NO MATTER who does, but it is important who has the right to do. Question, is it the right thing and right time to do?

The latest debate sparked off between the major political parties and the military backed interim government while government showed its interest to form a commission to review the Constitution of Bangladesh.

According to the commerce and education Adviser Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, government is now thinking a review exercise of the constitution of Bangladesh — not of its prime spirit but of certain articles. “The constitution can be reviewed through forming a ‘constitutional review commission,’ but will leave its recommendations to be implemented by the elected government,” he said at a joint press conference at the Chief Adviser's Office on Wednesday, June 04, 2008 after a dialogue with Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (BSD).

At the dialogue, BSD accelerated the government’s interest, adding to remove any ‘inconsistency’ in the constitution and governance. Gono Forum, headed by the veteran lawyer, who is credited as being one of the principal authors of the Constitution of Bangladesh, proposed the similar kind of review of the constitution and post-election national unity government in its scheduled dialogue with government on June 2, 2008.

But the major political parties, including Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), rebutted to any such attempt, as according to them, only the elected parliament has the authority to discuss any issue relating to the constitution. Reacted sharply against the government’s interest, BNP secretary-general, Khandaker Delwar Hossain said that it would be a total violation of the constitution as nobody, but the parliament has the right to see whether or not there is any inconsistency or contradiction in the constitution. AL presidium member Motia Chowdhury reminded the government about their tasks to hold parliamentary elections, adding that it is the duty of parliament to discuss anything about Bangladesh Constitution.

In his reaction at a city hotel, Rajshahi on Friday, June 05, 2008 prior to a city and district level workers' conference, Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon, admonished about the dangers that would result if an unelected government does a review of the constitution. According to him, the Constitution of Bangladesh is based upon the spirit of Independence of Bangladesh and if a review of the constitution is opened up, for example, Jamaat-e Islami can claim for establishment of Islamic rule, some other can say that the liberation of the country was a wrong thing, or anti-democratic activists’ can try achieve their goal.

A constitution is a settled arrangement by which a country's parts or elements, within a geographical district, combine themselves because of some common traits or particular features of mind or character of those in the combined group (a country) and which distinguishes it from other combined groups (other countries). It’s a system for governance, often stated as a written document that establishes the rules and principles of an autonomous political entity. It is not so much that a constitution of a country determines its nature and character; but, rather, that a constitution reflects a country's nature and character.

A country is more than a collection of people with patriotic feelings. A country is the friendly feelings to which such kindred give birth. A country is the feeling of confidence that people have when sharing similar habits and customs. Bangladesh became independent on December 16, 1971 with these feelings. And the constitution that came into effect from 16 December 1972, on the first anniversary of the victory day, follows these feelings. Before that, it was formally adopted by the Constitution Assembly on November 4, 1972.

The Constitution of Bangladesh is divided into 11 parts, which are further subdivided into 153 articles. In addition, there are 4 schedules and 1 preamble. The last and 14 amendment was adopted in May 16, 2004. Whereas, the Constitution of the USA of 1788, which was the world's first written constitution, went through only 27 amendments during more than two hundred years of its adoption.

According to the constitution analysts, law makers, and politicians, constitutions are not set in stone that can not be changed. But every time in amendment, the parliament never experienced full support of law makers, except the 12 amendment that re-introduced the parliamentary democracy in the country.

The Constitution is clearly a living document and is meant to be interpreted and amended over time to ensure that it is up with the times and reflects the evolving aspirations of the people. In considering such conviction, people always welcome any reviews, updates, and necessary amendments of constitution. But it should be implemented by an elected government and a proper process of rules as the Parliament of Bangladesh, which known as ‘House of the Nation,’ is the only source of any amendment to the constitution. The Parliament can amend the constitution with the support of two-thirds of members of the Parliament.

According to the government interest, the reviews are to be implemented by the next elected government. In this context, the review body can be formed at that the next parliament to avoid any difference between government and political parties, which may affect to the next parliament elections.

Although there is a huge debate over its existence, whether the government is constitutional or not, but it has vast popularity as because this non political government is designated to hold a fair election to create a healthy parliament. #

First published in New York, June 07, 2008
Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. He could be reached at