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    Volume 9 Issue 5 | January 29, 2010|

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Business as Usual

Old rivalries overshadow some of the great achievements of the ninth parliament

AM Hussain

Photo AFP

Years old bickering between two big parties is hindering the smooth functioning of the parliament, which has finished its first anniversary this month. The first session of the parliament, which was formed through the historic elections of 2008, showed much promise: Within a few days of its inception all the parliamentary standing committees were formed and posts of the chairman of many such important bodies went to the members of the opposition parties.

But, morning does not necessarily show the day. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) soon started to boycott the parliament on the flimsy issue of allotment of the front seats to its parliament members. Since then, the highest seats of Bangladesh's democracy have remained opposition-less.

Badiul Alam Majumdar of Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujan) calls timely formations of the Standing Committees a silver lining. He criticises the BNP for not joining the parliament, saying, " They are ignoring their constitutional responsibilities. The opposition parties have kept the whole democratic process hostage. This is unacceptable."

Former ambassador and political analyst Muhammad Zamir has said that the absence of the BNP and its allies from the parliament has affected their willingness to meaningfully participate in the process of governance. "Silly excuses have been proffered for their non-presence within the Jatiya Sangsad. These included the number of available seats for them in the front row. They have probably overlooked the most important axiom. A member of parliament represents his constituency and his actions are denying the constituents the right of being heard," he says.

Even though several attempts have been made by the Speaker to bring the BNP back to the floor, the party has remained a hard nut to crack. "Those who were routed in the polls have not been able to accept the reality of the situation," he says, "We have noted that despite the effort of the government and other related agencies there has been less than positive response from the opposition parties."

Along with the front row seats, the BNP has now introduced new demands, of which one is the withdrawal of corruption cases against Tariq Rahman, its Chairperson Khaleda Zia's son, making it impossible for the ruling alliance to come up with a compromise formula. Zamir offers some solutions to the problem, which has darkened all the achievements that the ninth parliament has made so far. "If necessary, the government might like to consider taking the following steps -- making arrangement for appointment of a Deputy Speaker from the Opposition and assuring them through the Speaker that their motions and questions will receive greater attention and be deemed suitable for hearing," he says.

He thinks that the most important issues of the time are the process of governance, reducing corruption, containing terrorism, economic development, promotion of foreign relations and protection of our interests abroad. Zamir says, " It must be noted that the government has successfully stopped the politicisation of governance. This they have managed to do by including new faces within the cabinet. And as we have seen over the last one year, it has been paying dividends. This includes ministries such as foreign, environment, commerce, finance, disaster management, and agriculture. These ministries have been able to lift the performance of the government."

Badiul Alam Majumdar however refuses to see everything in black and white. He thinks that some of the Standing Committees have not been making the government accountable to their authority, which they should be doing. "The decision to make the MPs advisers of the Upazila Parishads is an ominous step and it will cost the country's democracy dearly. "It is unconstitutional. It will destroy our local governance, I do not have the right words to condemn it," he says. He thinks that MPs should not be given an 80 per cent raise in their salary.

The ninth parliament is a historic establishment for many reasons. The election through which it has been established has come after two years of emergency rule, which itself was imposed to save the country from anarchy and lawlessness. It is the corruption and hunger for power of the BNP and its allies that led to the events of January 11, 2007. And because of this, in the elections of December 29, 2008, the voters overwhelmingly rejected the BNP, giving the Awami League absolute majority in the parliament. The expectations from the MPs are naturally very high, for the citizens have vested absolute power with them. But as the speeches of the BNP Chairperson are increasingly becoming confrontational there are reasons for the voters to get worried.

To begin with the BNP and its allies must return to the parliament and make their voices heard on the floor. The AL, for its turn, should reach out and do everything possible to bring the opposition back to the parliament. Constructive critics, after all, are the biggest friends of democracy. People expect a lot from Sheikh Hasina and her government, the first year of the ninth beginning should be the first step towards a giant long march for economic emancipation.


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