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February 15 2004 

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Proposed increase of seats in the parliament

Who will benefit!

Sajjad Waheed

This refers to the article by Barrister Hanun-ur-Rashid titled "Proposed increase of seats in the parliament: A legal view" published on 25 January 2004. After reading the article I was thinking if the writer gave any explanation on the legal view of his subject, or he rather went on explaining his view which is asking a political consensus for revision of the constitution.

He had defined constitution at the beginning of the article, and at the end added "A 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." I think none shall disagree with this comments.

Though both the major parties proposed increase of the number of parliament seats in their election manifesto prior to the 2001 general election, "but the number varied." Since BNP lead alliance holds a total of 219 seats in the present parliament, according to the Article 142 of Constitution, they can very well "amend any provision of the constitution." Barrister Rashid commented, "Hence, the ruling BNP-coalition government is legally empowered to amend any provision of the Constitution."

Legally, he answered his quest for the "Proposed increase of seats in the Parliament." After he answered his own question, he went on to find whether the present government can pass such an amendment of the Constitution "without consensus of other political parties in the parliament?" and he developed many factors of which only five were mentioned in the article.

He thinks the "political power is not to be exercised arbitrarily." And what he did not mention was that most of the rulers in Bangladesh seemed to forget this particular wise-sentence during their reign. The political power was exercised arbitrarily soon after the birth of the nation through a bloody war. None of our leaders did exercise power in their realm leniently.

When some one talks about the 1972 Constitution, I cannot hold myself laughing. If that constitution was so good, then why there was rigged voting in 1973 general election to ensure that only one particular party gets two third majority, and then why in 1975 that "very good" Constitution was grossly amended? Actually, none can answer this. One vague argument is put forward, "the situation demanded". If that is the case in those days, the situation now require either to overhaul the Constitution or to amend the Constitution to meet the aspiration of the people of Bangladesh.

In the past, except for the 11th and 12th amendments [those amendments brought back parliamentary system of government from presidential form of government; and paved way for Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed back to his post of Chief Justice], not all parties present in the parliament could stand together to pass any law to amend any provision of the Constitution. I think, no where in the Constitution this particular point is mentioned, and was never practised expect for only one case mentioned above.

Interestingly, our Constitution does not support the "popular vote" concept. This idea was floated very recently.

If popularity vote is the main benchmark to measure the public opinion, then soon after the general election, all the parties should be given with their share of seats according to the popular vote. Alas, this provision of popular vote is not incorporated in our Constitution.

The last question Barrister Rashid asked has got a huge weightage. Since our form of government is a parliamentary form of government, and for last twelve years we could successfully handicapped, or say virtually killed parliament, as centre of all discussion and debate, I think an increase in general seat number is not required. This will increase the cost of the parliament, and make the prestige of the MPs lower than the present time. In addition, the basic design of our architecturally famous parliament building will have to be changed, and that is not desirable.

As for the referendum, one should follow the Article 142.1A of the Constitution. That is the legal way to hold one referendum. There is no scope for a referendum prior to one amendment. That is illegal and against the constitution. If this pre-referendum is to be making legal, it requires another amendment of the Constitution. And historically, our elected parliament in the past did not hold any pre-referendum for all the thirteen Constitution amendments in the last 33 years.

Sajjad Waheed is a reader of The Daily Star.


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