Vol. 4 Num 343 Tue. May 18, 2004  

14th Amendment
Does it add value to the Constitution?
Taking little cognizance of highly well-articulated and persuasive criticism of the bill on the part of civil society and the media as well as the opposition, the government has made the 14th amendment to the Constitution part of the statute book. Its passage can be termed unfortunate in that all the pros and cons of the broad legislative measure could not be sufficiently weighed up given the haste in which it was carried out.

The most important clause of the new amendment raised the number of reserved women's seats in parliament from 30 to 45. It is worth pointing out that this amendment has been rejected by virtually every major women's group in the country. What is the sense of passing legislation ostensibly for women if it is opposed by the very constituency it claims to help? Moreover, only a stop-gap arrangement of a reserved quota has been validated and extended without any qualitative improvement by way of direct election replacing the meaningless system of nomination.

On the portrait issue, was the amendment at all necessary? The amendment detracts from the importance of the Constitution by including something that could better be addressed through an executive order. It is more a matter of custom and precedent than that of a constitutional provision.

Finally, raising the retirement age for judges at a time like this, marked by a climate of suspicion and distrust could raise a question as to whether it has been done with an eye to the make-up of the caretaker government that will hold the next elections, or to maintaining a status quo on the Bangabandhu murder case. When it comes to something as crucial as a constitutional amendment, it is not enough to do the right, one must be seen to be doing right as well.

The ultimate test of a good constitutional amendment lies in its adding value to the constitution and in ensuring that it lasts through the vagaries of politics and the changing of guards. On both counts, the amendment falls short of meeting the criteria.