Vol. 4 Num 119 Tue. September 23, 2003  
Front Page

Sangsad in limbo
Ruling alliance's little initiative, Opposition's lack of

Uncertainty hangs over the effective functioning of the current parliament as the main opposition Awami League (AL) is reluctant to return and the ruling alliance lacks initiative to bring them back to the House.

About two years into office, the eighth Jatiya Sangsad is yet to nominate its deputy leader, fully form standing committees with opposition members on them and begin full-scale operation. Despair haunts lawmakers from both the treasury and opposition benches who are concerned over the effectiveness of the House that marked its maiden journey without AL members. The fifth and seventh parliaments began their terms with the presence of the main opposition parties on the floor, although they were boycotted by the opposition with about two years to expire. Party sources said the AL is preparing for a tough anti-government movement without returning to parliament and nominating its deputies to the standing committees -- the vital institutions of a parliamentary democracy.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the leader of the ruling alliance, is unlikely to take any initiative to bring the AL back to the House and blamed the parliament boycott on the negative mindset of the key opposition party. "The AL has been boycotting parliament with a lame excuse. They don't want to make the House effective," said Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, local government, rural development and cooperatives minister and BNP secretary general, on the floor on Thursday.

Deputy Leader of the Opposition Abdul Hamid dismissed Bhuiyan's allegations, saying: "They don't want us in the House. The speaker himself saw little meaning in our presence, saying it was effective without us.""Even the prime minister declared one of her party men as the de facto legislator of an opposition held constituency." "We won't return to the House unless they apologize for their undemocratic comments," Hamid asserted. AL legislator Farook Khan blamed the BNP for the political deadlock. "Parliament won't be effective until the ruling party ceases to consider it as their party office. They don't give us a chance to speak in the House." But there was little doubt among the ruling alliance ranks that the presence of the opposition was vital to make the Jatiya Sangsad effective and strengthen democracy. "If the main opposition was in the House, it would have been more effective," Sultan Mahmud Babu, a BNP lawmaker for Jamalpur, told The Daily Star. "Without participation of opposition lawmakers, the committees cannot ensure greater transparency."Shah Ruhul Quddus, Jamat-e-Islami lawmaker for Khulna, termed the 'boycott-House approach' unfortunate, saying: "Without them how can parliament become effective?" Shah Soliaman Alam, Jatiya Party (Ershad) legislator for Rangpur, said it was very unfortunate that the parliamentary standing committees were not yet fully formed. Comparing the current parliament with the past two, they said they were better in consideration of performance. Following the last general elections on October 1, 2001, the eighth parliament met with the AL benches vacant. The AL changed its heart after 70 workdays and joined the budget session, the third of the sitting parliament, on June 24 last year to stay only five days. They boycotted the session in protest against the switching off of the mike of lawmaker Sheikh Fazlul Karim. The AL deputies returned to the House after the passage of the budget to stage a noisy walkout in protest against the arrest of a party lawmaker which lurched into a boycott of the remaining sittings of the session. AL returned to parliament in the next session. But the AL's position began to harden when they boycotted the budget session this year protesting the derogatory remarks of a state minister against Leader of the Opposition and AL President Sheikh Hasina. The party preconditioned their presence in parliament with apology of the state minister, expunction of all derogatory comments from the proceedings and the running of the House following the constitution and the rules of procedure. Before the crisis was resolved, the prime minister and the speaker made the comments that fanned the flames of the AL fury. Political analysts believe both the ruling and opposition parties should sit together to resolve the crisis before it spins out of control.