Published: Thursday, May 30, 2013
AFTER changeover in 1991 and the subsequent amendment to the constitution, a unique type of governance system has been introduced in Bangladesh. Since a parliament is formed by elected representatives the system is named parliamentary form of democracy. But, neither the role of parliament nor the culture of democracy is visible in the system.
After the election of Parliament, the position of chief executive of the country or Prime Minister (PM) is taken over by the majority party chief (if elected) who continues to hold the party position simultaneously. PM is having the absolute authority of executive power of the government. So much so, that government means for all practical purposes the PM only. PM also possesses similar control on Parliament. Parliament in reality has no role in governance and is considered rubber stamp organ for legalising the desires and actions of the PM. Due to the same reason Parliament has always been boycotted by the opposition parties whoever that had been. PM can also exert considerable influence on the office of the President and Judiciary.
PM alone under the existing system is in a position to exercise almost the entire authority and executive power of the state without any hindrance and bypassing all accountability. This is by definition a dictatorial rule and is sure to evolve into autocracy in the absence of any accountability. All social evils subsequently surface as a natural consequence.
It may be mentioned, Bangladesh ranked as the most corrupt country consecutively for five years with effect from 2001 to 2005 as per Transparency International (TI). It is still within the category of the most corrupt group of countries.
As has been mentioned already, all the power of the government administration is centralised in the PM. So, if and when PM desires to act on jobs assigned to others and not directly under PM, it is possible and is often being practiced. In that way PM gets involved directly in almost all the problems of the country including many routine works of general nature. As a result, every single person looks forward to the head of the government for directives even on very trifling matters and nothing moves without PM’s intervention. Considering the volume of work it is not humanly possible for a person to do the same properly. Mismanagement, lack of coordination, inefficiency, irregularities, spread of corruption and violence etc. in short absence of good governance and rule of law are the natural outcome.
Since head of government is being involved in almost all works, big and small, he/she is perceived to be personally responsible for any mishaps (sometimes even without being so) when that happens, be it a case of big corruption, irregularity, accident of any sort and subsequent loss of life etc.
With the possibility of being made responsible for misdeeds occurring during the tenure it is considered too unsafe to accept the idea of being outside of power. So, the struggle for perpetuating in power by any means or to grab the same again by hook or by crook has been continuing. Partisan interests are being promoted; corruption and violence by party people are protected for creation of powerful vested interest etc are thought to be utilised for that purpose.
Some recommendations are put below with an objective of curtailing the autocratic power of the head of the government and also to ensure effectiveness of some institutions vital for practice of democratic culture:
It should be made mandatory for the party chief to relinquish that position if he/she accepts the position of head of government after winning election. Party chief and head of the government should be two different persons.
Nobody should be allowed to hold the post of PM for more than two terms.
Article 70 of the constitution as regards floor crossing by the MPs should be made softer and example of Indian constitution may be followed in that respect.
Election to and removal from the position of Speaker should be made on receipt of three fourth or two third majority votes of MPs.
There could be consensus among all the political parties to allow the Speaker to continue for the next tenure without any contest.
All necessary steps should be taken to effectively separate Judiciary from the executive.
Election commission should be made independent with enough power and authority to enable it to enforce the election related laws and rules effectively.
The present system of constituency based election could be amended, to be on proportional representation basis, where candidates will be declared elected from amongst a pre-declared list serially, the total number being proportionate to the total votes received by the party against the total votes cast.
Election for the post of President may be done with secret balloting.
People’s expectation after 1991 had been that there would be practice of democratic culture and peaceful transfer of power. But, it did not happen in reality. Country is not run with democratic values rather it is being governed by a single person. Transfer of power after expiry of a term is becoming more and more complex with ever rising conflicts. Nobody is sure where will all these end. Recommendations as suggested may be considered for minimising autocracy and the associated evils.
The writer is Hon’ble Minister, Ministry of Commerce, Bangladesh.