Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013

G.M. Quader

A country’s governance on personal whim by a single person is considered to be an autocracy. An autocratic rule is, in that sense, observed to be anti-people; failing to conceive the aspiration and fulfill their hopes.

And so people demand a governance system where they can take charge and run the affairs of the state through elected representatives — the ultimate objective being to have welfare-oriented pro-people governance. This is how the concept of democracy evolved.

Democracy intends to ensure a running of the state affairs for he welfare of its people; with a visible reflection of their views. Election of the representatives does not necessarily guarantee the delivery of a democratic rule. If the governance is centralised on a single person, who cares little for the need of the citizen’s, it is considered an autocracy even if it is elected.

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” To ensure pro-people governance by the elected representatives, it is essential that there is mechanism for proper accountability. Also there should be scope for rectifying wrong doings of those in power. Presently, Bangladesh practices a parliamentary form of government, where the parliament and the judiciary are the institutions to hold the government accountable for its actions. To deliver good governance, it is necessary that these two institutions are kept away from influence of government.

In all previous elections, since 1991, the party that won had selected the party chief as the prime minister (PM) or head of government. PM retained the position of the party chief with the absolute authority over the political party’s activities. As per constitution, all executive power of the government is reposed with the PM so much so that the government simply means PM for all practical purposes. So, the PM has absolute control over both the party and the government.

As per clause 70 of our Constitution, the members of parliament (MPs) elected on nomination from a party are barred from crossing the floor; meaning MPs are bound to accept the dictates of the party for any decision in the parliament. So, PM being the party chief, and the parliamentary party chief, has the scope to impose his/her decisions on the MPs. This allows the PM to control the decisions of the parliament with the captive support of the government party MPs who constitute majority in the House.

The Speaker, elected by the majority vote of the MPs, holds the highest position in parliament and can also be removed from position through a majority vote as well. Again, this allows the PM to select anybody loyal to him/her and have full control of that position along with its activities.

With the parliament being the House of the people where the issues are ventilated and where the government is asked to account for its actions, and its chief being the speaker, who is under the control of PM, the parliament is simply being used just to legalise the actions of the government, and is considered as rubber stamp parliament.

It is then natural that parliament will not be able to effectively ensure the accountability of the head of the government.

Parliament is being considered dysfunctional by all the political parties, including the present ruling party — they expressed similar opinions at different times by boycotting and once even by resigning from the parliament when in the Opposition. Given that the parliament is the most vital institution for a democracy, when it itself remains malfunction, democracy naturally cannot exist.

The separation of judiciary from the executive has been stipulated in the constitution. Some measures have been taken in that direction too. But as per distinguished personalities in the field, real independence of judiciary is yet to materialise.

The position of a president is the highest ranking person in the country; which has been made non-partisan in the constitution. This post is to be filled in by a person considered dependable and acceptable to all and yet the post is filled in by majority vote of the MPs. So, PM can select any person for that position and party MPs have no other option but to vote in line.

Removing the president requires a two-third majority vote by the MPs. The present AL government posses this absolute majority and the last BNP-led government also exercised that majority in parliament. Given this state, the president can be removed at any time if s/he shows unwillingness to follow the PM’s orders. During BNP’s immediate past rule, the president was actually forced to resign.

Given that the PM alone, under the existing system, is in a position to exercise unlimited executive power over the state without any hindrance, this by practice becomes a dictatorial rule.

All social evil subsequently surface as a natural consequence. Consecutive road and rail accidents, fire in factories, collapse of under construction building, bridge etc. and enormous number of deaths due to similar accidents, increase of violence, terrorism and extortion, forgery and other irregularities in financial sector, and the spread of corruption in almost all spheres of life are consequence of an absence of good governance that initially surfaced due to an abuse of unlimited power without accountability.

The scenario of violence between political parties and alliances just before the last tenure ended is being repeated this year. Incidents this time have more intensity with bigger casualties. In addition, a sharp division has been created in the country among supporters of secularist and Islamics.

Moreover, the Savar disaster that resulted in more than 1,000 deaths of garment workers sparked concern of the international community about worker’s rights and working conditions along with a violent protest from readymade garment (RMG) workers. All this has put the future of an important export sector, vital for our economy, to great risk.

Nobody is sure where all this will end. These are evils of autocracy; a repetition of similar mishaps will not stop until we get rid of it.

The writer is a current minister of commerce.Top of Form