Proposed increase of seats in the Parliament: A legal view
I discuss the question of the proposal of increasing seats of parliament,
it seems appropriate to ask : What is a Constitution of a country? To
use a homely simile, a constitution is a costume made to measure and
is actually worn and not to hang in the wardrobe.
constitutional experts consider possession of Constitution a necessary
part of existence of statehood. It is a sign of political independence
and maturity. A Constitution is often called a fundamental law because
it cannot be amended by a vote of simple majority of members of parliament.
Ordinarily it can be amended either by a vote of two-thirds or three-fourths
majority of the total number of members of parliament.
constitution is a fundamental document on the basis of which a democratic
state is run. It has primarily two objectives: (a) laying down economic
and social goals of the people and (b) enumeration of functions of the
three organs of a state, namely, executive, parliament and judiciary.
The executive arm administers, parliament enacts laws and judiciary
interprets and applies laws. It was the English political philosopher
John Locke(1632-1704) who first distinguished between three organs of
1831, a 25-year old French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville journeyed
for nine months through America and wrote a book "Democracy in
America" in which he wrote: " I saw in America more than America;
it was the shape of democracy itself which I sought" under the
unique provisions of American Constitution.
above paragraphs indicate the importance of a Constitution as it goes
to the heart of running a state. The debate and discussion by framers
of Constitution suggest that a Constitution is adopted on the basis
of consensus of elected members of all political parties.
political scientists insist that democracy is more than holding periodic
elections. At its base is tolerance, respect for other's views and compromise
for a peaceful society. To discover the type and amount of democracy
in a country is to judge as to what extent these attributes exist or
not. Although democracy is the rule of the majority where the minority
has the right to criticise the majority for its misuse or abuse of power,
tyrannical majority and recalcitrant minority are the enemies of democracy,
according to an eminent constitutional expert, Sir Ivor Jennings.
lack of consensus among political parties on the nature of Constitution
is likely to paralyse the political process in a democratic society.
In other words democratic governments are run with consent of the people
that is expressed ably by Rousseau's concept of "general will".
us now examine the proposal of increase of seats in the Bangladesh parliament.
It has been reported that the ruling coalition government led by BNP
proposes to increase from 300 to 450 parliamentary seats (50 reserved
seats for women elected indirectly).
this connection a question that merits attention is: Did the increase
of seats in the parliament find a place in the 2001 election manifesto
of BNP and Awami League- the two main political parties in the country?
appears that BNP's election manifesto included "a 500-strong parliament
and increased reserved seats for women", while that of Awami League,
"sixty parliamentary seats for women and direct election to these"
was incorporated. Therefore, both the main parties proposed increase
of parliamentary seats, but the numbers varied.
BNP-led coalition secured 201 seats (now it has 219) out of 300 in the
parliament following the election in October 2001. This means that they
have two- thirds majority in the parliament required to amend any provision
of the Constitution (Article 142). Hence, the ruling BNP-coalition government
is legally empowered to amend any provision of the Constitution.
central question needs to be asked: Can the ruling coalition government
amend a provision of the Constitution (increase of seats in parliament)
without consensus of other political parties represented in the parliament?
Many factors are involved to answer this question but five in particular
political power is not to be exercised arbitrarily. Power entails obligation
and responsibility. There are two important legal principles involved
in the exercise of power in amending the Constitution. One is the doctrine
of palpable fairness and the other is doctrine of purpose. This means
that people should perceive fairness in the proposal and further the
purpose of the proposal must be seen to be in the public interest, bereft
of any political motivation.
the constitution of 1972 reflects the wishes and aspirations of the
entire people of Bangladesh. In its preamble it states that the Constitution
is the "embodiment of the will of the people of Bangladesh"
(paragraph 4 of the preamble of the Constitution). This means that the
will of the people of the country is reflected through the Constitution.
Accordingly it is reasonable to argue that consensus of members of all
political parties represented in the parliament is required.
during the 2001 election, the popular vote of political parties as reported
in the media was as follows: Awami League 40.13%, BNP secured 40.97%,
Islami Jatiya Oikyo Front led by H.M. Ershad 7.25%, Jamaat 4.28%, Bangladesh
JP 1.12% and Islami Oikyo Jote 0.68%. Record shows that both BNP and
Awami Legue in fact increased their popular vote in the 2001 election
from their position in 1996.
since Awami League has obtained a little more than 40% of popular vote,
it represents a sizeable section of population of the country, although
it was only able to secure only 62 seats (now it is 58) in the parliament
because of the existing first-past the post electoral system. Had it
been a proportional representation, Awami League would have 40% of the
300 seats (i.e.120 seats) in the parliament. Consequently, from the
point of view of popular vote, one may argue that the views of Awami
League cannot be ignored in the proposal of increasing the number of
seats in the parliament. However Awami League seems to disappoint the
will of the voters in boycotting the parliament.
can Bangladesh, being a least developed country, afford to carry the
burden of huge additional expenditure required to upkeep the needs of
constitution is a living document. It has to march with the time and
adapt itself flexibly to the exigencies of the situation. At the same
any amendment affects the whole society. Given the increase of population,
the proposal per se seems to be consistent with manifesto of
both BNP and Awami League. But the catch is in the process of implementing
cannot totally be separated from morality and therefore the process
must be seen to be fair and the purpose should be in the interest of
public. The proposal should not suffer from political motivation or
ulterior motive. The process must be transparent and should reflect
the wishes of the people.
may be argued that there are two ways of doing it: (a) a consensus to
be arrived at by members of all political parties represented in the
parliament or (b) a referendum may be held to elicit the wishes of the
the provision of referendum as provided in Article 142.1A of the Constitution,
is restricted only to amendment of Article 8 (fundamental principles
of state policy), Article 48 (President's power) and Article 56 ( Prime
Minister's power), there seems to be no legal bar for the parliament,
being the supreme elected body of people, to adopt a resolution holding
a referendum, thereby giving a chance to people to express their views
on this important national question.
Harun-ur-Rashid is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.