Who Got Elected to the Ninth Parliament?
Badiul Alam Majumdar
The election to the ninth parliament is over, and its newly elected members have already taken the oath of office. We compiled the information contained in the affidavits and tax returns filed by them with their nomination papers. The exercise is quite revealing with respect to the composition of the new parliament and the backgrounds of its members.
The official results show that the Awami League-led Grand Alliance won 262 seats, of which Awami League itself won 230 seats, Jatiyo Party 27 seats, Workers' Party 2 seats, and Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) 3 seats.
Habibur Rahman/ Driknews
The BNP-led Four Party Alliance won a total of 32 seats, of which BNP won 29 seats, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami won 2 seats and Bangladesh Jatiyo Party (BJP) won 1 seat. Liberal Democratic Front (LDP) won 1 seat and the remaining 4 seats went to independents.
The elected MPs included 41 former Awami League MPs who were re-elected in 43 seats, although 2 former Awami League MP contested as independents and were defeated. The contestants also included 129 former BNP MPs who ran on different tickets (110 with BNP, 2 on Bikalpa Dhara, 2 with the LDP, and 15 as independents) in 137 seats. Only 15 of them won. Eleven former Jamaat MPs ran, and none of them won a seat.
Many of these former BNP and Jamaat MPs were controversial for their alleged involvement in graft, corruption, war crimes, and other misdeeds in the past; as a result they found it difficult to face independent minded voters. Thus, the anti-incumbency factor -- the ugly baggage they carried as incumbents -- appears to have played a key role in their defeat.
Another interesting feature of the newly elected MPs is that, of the 293 persons elected from 299 seats (Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda Zia and Ershad each won in three seats), 163 (56 percent) of them are new faces -- they had never been elected to the parliament.
Of the Awami League MPs, 132 (58 percent) are newcomers. Thirteen MPs belonging to BNP, 14 to Jatiyo Party, 2 to Jamaat and 2 independents are also fresh faces. They have relatively cleaner images, and this appears to have been an important factor in the lopsided results in favour of the Grand Alliance.
Among the 293 newly elected MPs, 14 are from religious and ethnic minorities -- all of whom belong to Awami League. Fifty-eight women ran in 62 seats and only 19 of them won in 23 seats, with former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia winning in 3 seats each. AL has 16 women MPs in 18 seats and BNP has 3 in 5 seats. Unfortunately, only 6 percent of the newly elected 293 MPs are women, although women constitute about half of the total population and the majority of the voters.
Most of the elected MPs appear to be educated. About 82 percent of the Awami League MPs have Bachelor or higher degrees. The same is true for 79 percent of BNP MPs. Only about 7 percent have educational qualification of SSC or lower. Some MPs gave misleading information about their educational qualification and some also reported higher degrees obtained from so-called diploma mills.
With regard to profession, 53 percent of the new MPs from AL reported business as their profession in their affidavits. On the other hand, 69 percent of BNP MPs indicated business as their profession. Overall, 59 percent of the elected MPs are businessman by their own declaration.
However, in reality, the proportion of businessmen in the ninth parliament is likely to be higher because many elected MPs did not clearly specify their source of income in their affidavits. For example, 10 MPs, including the two former prime ministers, indicated politics as their profession, and some said they were former government officials, etc.
Unfortunately, many of the elected MPs have been accused of having criminal pasts. For example, of the 262 Mps belonging to the Grand Alliance, 111 (43 percent) had criminal cases against them in the past, and 74 (or 28 percent) have cases pending at present. In contrast, 23 (72 percent) of the 32 Four Party Alliance MPs were in the past accused of criminal wrongdoing and 17 (59 percent) currently have criminal cases against them.
Overall, out of 293 MPs, 139 (46 percent) are accused of having criminal pasts and 92 (31 percent) are accused of engaging in criminal activities at present. At least 18 elected MPs have murder charges under Section 302 of the CrPC pending against them. At least two elected MPs are accused of committing war crimes and several are loan defaulters.
There are also accusations of corruption against a significant number of newly elected MPs. We could identify at least 54 candidates with corruption charges, 29 of whom belong to BNP and 17 to AL. Of these 54, a total of 24 tainted candidates -- all 17 AL candidates and only 6 belonging to BNP -- got elected. The new parliament also includes at least one member who was convicted for corruption.
It must be emphasised that mere allegations, and even the filling of charge sheets, do not represent proof of crime. Cases are sometimes filed for political considerations. Those accused are also often found innocent or the cases against them are withdrawn, again under political influence.
For example, after the Four Party Alliance came to power in 2001, several thousand cases against their party activities were reported to have been withdrawn. Because of political consideration, sometimes even legal proceedings are not instituted against real criminals.
In addition, there are allegations that many candidates hid information about their criminal past in their affidavits. Thus, the number of alleged criminals, by our count, is understated. Therefore, it is impossible to determine the extent of criminal elements elected to the ninth parliament, although the information contained in the affidavits provides an indication.
Nevertheless, it is clear from the alleged criminal records that BNP nominated relatively more tainted candidates, and the voters rejected them with a vengeance. In fact, BNP appears to have demonstrated irresponsibility in its nominations, which earned the wrath of the voters.
For example, it nominated two candidates who were convicted of committing multiple murders, although their sentences were commuted by presidential clemency. It also nominated many known godfathers and looters and plunderers of the public exchequer.
In addition, many of its partner Jamaat-e-Islami's candidates are accused of committing war crimes. Many voters appear to have felt that the election of controversial candidates would validate their activities and allow them to go on a rampage in the future. Thus, the election was a sort of referendum.
The financial information contained in both the affidavits and the tax returns submitted by the candidates is also quite revealing. According to NBR sources, all elected MPs, with the exception of only two, are taxpayers. The disclosed information indicates that most of them are millionaires. The available information shows that 44 percent have assets of at least one crore taka.
However, it must be pointed out that many elected MPs only listed their assets without indicating their value, and they could not be included in our count. There are also accusations of widespread concealment of information regarding wealth by many MPs. Thus, the number of kotipati, with at least 10 million taka worth of assets, is grossly understated.
In fact, our hunch is that the ninth parliament will be a kotipati club, which is an anathema to the idea of a representative democracy with all segments of the population fairly represented in the parliament. Of course, there is nothing wrong in becoming a kotipati as long as the accumulated wealth is not ill-gotten.
It is clear from the foregoing that many controversial persons were elected to the ninth parliament, and that we must do better in the future. Nevertheless, many new faces with relatively cleaner backgrounds were elected, creating an unprecedented possibility of a new generation of dedicated leadership -- leadership committed to public service rather than to selfish interests.
Whether or not this possibility becomes a reality will depend on the thoughtfulness and wisdom of the leaders of the ruling coalition. We wish them well and at the same time assure them of our support and cooperation while keeping a watchful eye on their actions and inactions.
Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar is Secretary, SHUJAN (Citizens for Good Governance).