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      Volume 10 |Issue 46 | December 09, 2011 |


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Current Affairs

The Brute Majority


The country's parliament had passed the bill to split Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) in only four minutes and a few seconds. It ignored widespread criticism, protests and eminent citizens' call to not bifurcate DCC. Moreover some MPs belonging to the Workers Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal and the lone independent lawmaker, who moved to oppose the passage of the bill, could not do anything, as the parliament on November 29 passed the bill hurriedly before they could join the House proceedings.

President Zillur Rahman did not take much time to sign the bill into law when it was placed before him on December 1. The government on Sunday appointed two administrators for bifurcated DCC, ignoring the constitutional provisions that do not allow unelected people to hold office of any local government bodies.

Splitting the DCC has parked protests and a huge hue and cry. The main opposition BNP has already enforced a dawn to dusk hartal on Sunday in the capital. And they have threatened to wage vigorous street agitations to force the government to scrap the law.

It has become the latest glaring example of how the parliament fails to act as the House of the Nation and embody the will of the people. It has become another blatant example of how the parliament served the desire of the government. It has also been an example of how ruling Awami League lawmakers remained silent and voted for the passage of the bill to fulfill the government's ridiculous desire to split DCC.

Photo: Star File

A few months ago, the AL-led government had used the parliament to do even more desperate things. It abolished the caretaker government (CG) system by amending the constitution in June this year. In this case too, the parliament only acted on the wish of the government. People, including many belonging to the ruling AL-led alliance, were against the cancellation of the CG. In the current political scenario, they sought to continue the system. But their desires were defeated by the ruling party high-command's stubborn wish. It shows how a government with an overwhelming majority in parliament can fail to embody the will of the people.

The BNP-led opposition parties have already announced that they would not contest the next parliamentary elections without the restoration of the caretaker government system. People fear that the political situation might become more volatile in the coming days over the caretaker government issue. But the current government seems to have started to overlook the growing concern. They seem to have forgotten the history. They are doing desperate things one after another. They need to reassess their strategy by going through the past records.

What lesson does history teach us? In the past, the governments with overwhelming majority in parliament could not deliver properly. Overwhelming majority made them arrogant and ignore the people's voice. Rather a government with simple majority has records of doing well except for a few controversies.

The Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led government, which assumed office through 1973 parliamentary elections, had the biggest ever majority in the parliament. In the newly born country, the government failed very badly to perform for various reasons, including some justified grounds. But by dint of the biggest majority in parliament, the then government took a disastrous stance against democracy. Ignoring criticisms, the then government made the parliament pass the nefarious fourth amendment act of the constitution in January 1975 that introduced one party rule– Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL).

But that could not ensure improvement of the situation in the country at that time. On the morning of August 15, 1975, new President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated, his government was overthrown and Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed placed the whole country under martial law, starting a legacy of military rule in sovereign democratic Bangladesh.

In the second parliament formed through elections in 1979, the newly formed BNP led by General Ziaur Rahman managed to get a two-thirds majority and the then parliament was made to pass the fifth amendment act, ratifying all orders and actions made or taken under martial law proclamations, regulations, orders, etc during the first martial law regime between August 15, 1975 and April 9, 1979.

His successor, General HM Ershad, followed the same path. He grabbed state power on March 24 of 1982, overthrowing the then BNP-led government. Later he formed his political party, Jatiya Party. In the parliamentary elections held in 1986, his party got around two-thirds majority – enough to amend the constitution. The then third parliament passed the constitution's seventh amendment act, ratifying all actions of the second martial law regime led by Gen HM Ershad, who had kept the constitution suspended for around four years since declaration of another martial law on March 24, 1982.

Both the fifth and seventh amendments destroyed the constitution's very basic structures and the amendments were declared illegal and void by the country's apex court later.

In the face of strong agitation in the streets, HM Ershad dissolved the third parliament formed through the polls in 1986, and the new polls held in 1988, amid a boycott of all the other opposition parties, Jatiya Party got a landslide victory in the polls. His government with the overwhelming majority in parliament passed the eighth amendment in 1988, completing the desecularisation of the constitution by declaring Islam the state religion. In doing so, his intention was nothing but to score some political dividends by using the people's religious sentiments. However, his government could not prevent itself from crumbling as a mass upsurge de-throwned him on December 6 and more humiliation was awaiting him -- he was put behind the bars where he had to stay during the then BNP-led government's entire tenure from 1991 to 1996.

The BNP-led government, which enjoyed simple majority in the fifth parliament that was constituted through an election in 1991 after the fall of autocratic regime, had performed rather well. And the fifth parliament also performed well. But the then ruling party BNP's some major mistakes — such as rigging in favour of its candidate in the Magura parliamentary by-polls — overshadowed its success on many fronts. And later its stubborn attitude contributed largely to the momentum of the then opposition parties' demand for the introduction of the caretaker government. The then ruling BNP continued to reject the demand. Without resolving the political crisis, the then parliament was dissolved, paving the way for holding the sixth parliamentary polls under the then BNP-led government.

Amid boycott of all major opposition parties, the sixth parliamentary elections were held on February 15 of 1996. The BNP got a landslide victory in the polls, but it could not remain in power as the tenure of the then sixth parliament lasted only 11 days. The then parliament passed the constitution's thirteenth amendment act in 1996 introducing the caretaker government system for periods when parliaments remain dissolved.

The AL-led government, elected with a simple majority in the seventh parliament, did well on many fronts. But the party had to pay a very high price in 2001 parliamentary polls for defending some of its leaders' unruly activities in different parts of the country throughout its tenure.

Assuming office through the October 2001 parliamentary elections, the BNP-led government with absolute majority in the parliament became arrogant. The ruling BNP forced the then President Badruddoza Chowdhury, who was elected by the party in June 2002, to step down on petty political grounds. With the two-third majority, the then ruling BNP-led alliance made the eighth parliament pass the constitution's fourteenth amendment, generating a huge controversy as it increased the service age of the Supreme Court judges by two years, paving the way for then chief justice MA Hasan to lead the caretaker government that was supposed to assume office after the end of the BNP-led government's tenure. The then opposition camp led by the AL vehemently refused to accept Justice Hasan as the caretaker chief. Political situation became volatile by the end of 2006. A state of emergency was declared in January 2007, leading to the suspension of the ninth parliamentary election scheduled for January 22.

The eventful and prolonged emergency regime ended when the ninth parliamentary election was held on December 29, 2008 in a free and peaceful manner. In the December 29 polls, the BNP-led alliance faced an electoral debacle while the AL-led alliance got a whopping victory.

The AL led government with an overwhelming majority in the parliament passed almost three years of its tenure. The way the government is running its business, its well wishers cannot feel optimistic about its future. Its desperate move in many cases, including the cancellation of the caretaker government and splitting of the DCC, has made the well wishers worried. Will the AL-led current government be able to avert the humiliation the governments with overwhelming majority have faced in the past? Or will it be able to set a new example in the country's political history? Only time can tell.

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