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    Volume 11 |Issue 38| September 28, 2012 |


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Current Affairs

Legal Loophole

Shakhawat Liton

Article 72 (1) of Bangladesh's constitution empowers Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to advise the president to dissolve the current parliament at any time. If advised, President Zillur Rahman will have no other alternative but to dissolve the parliament. There is no ambiguity in the absolute power of the prime minister that she enjoys under the article 72 (1) regarding the dissolution of Jatiya Sangsad. Hasina can get the House dissolved at any time before expiry of its tenure and seek fresh mandate from the people.

There are many instances in the countries following the Westminster type of parliamentary democracy where early polls are held after dissolving the parliament. In such a situation, the government opts for an early election and there is a possibility for the ruling party of returning to power through the elections.

In Bangladesh, no previous governments have used such political strategy, not because of their lack of political wisdom. In fact, they were never in such a position to go for early polls as they always remained embattled with various problems. And the mindset of all the successive governments have been the same none of them wants to quit power even a day before of their term. Even when they remain in power they plan how to retain it by manipulating the elections. This political culture has yielded nothing positive.

However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's September 19 announcement regarding dissolution of the current parliament before the next polls has triggered widespread speculation as to whether her government is going for early polls.

Hasina, also ruling Awami League chief, announced that the present parliament would be dissolved before the next parliamentary polls. In case she honours her words, her government is going to go for early polls at least a few months before the scheduled date. In the prevailing situation her government seems to have fallen into the trap it has made for the opposition parties. Last year the government amended the constitution, reinstating a peculiar constitutional provision which introduced a system for holding the polls retaining the incumbent parliament. If the government wants to allow parliament to complete its five year tenure, the next polls must be held within its last 90 days, meaning the polls will be held without dissolving the current Jatiya Sangsad. And it will run counter to Hasina's announcement.

So there is no alternative but to dissolve the running parliament at least three months before it completes its tenure. Alternatively her government can reinstate the previous provision by amending the constitution which would allow parliament to get dissolved after completion of the tenure and holding polls within 90 days of the dissolution. Therefore, it is now clear in the prevailing political situation that the constitution's 15th amendment brought last year now prevents the present parliament from completing its five year tenure. It may sadden the ministers and MPs as their desire to remain office for five years will not be fulfilled.

Hasina's announcement regarding the dissolution of the incumbent Jatiya Sangsad before the next parliamentary polls is being considered a major breakthrough in the prevailing political deadlock over holding the next parliamentary elections. Polls retaining the parliament means all MPs will remain in office during the polls and will be able to influence the administration to manipulate the election in their favour.

But the uncertainty over the next parliamentary polls still looms large as the main issue of the caretaker government remains unresolved. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her party have made it clear that they would in no way allow the restoration of the caretaker government system. On the other hand, the BNP-led opposition parties have been preparing to gear up street agitation to force the government to meet their demand. On September 23 at a huge public rally in Dinajpur, BNP chief Khaleda Zia has made it clear. Khaleda has urged people to take to the streets when she announces her agitation programmes in the coming days. "The Awami League wants to hold the election by staying in power but we will never allow it,” she has announced.

The AL-led government used the Supreme Court's verdict to abolish the caretaker government system by amending the constitution. The Appellate Division of the Supreme on May 10 last year declared illegal and void the constitutional provision for the caretaker government system. In its short order the apex court also observed that the next two parliamentary polls could be held under the void constitutional provisions for the caretaker government. Therefore, it was expected that the Supreme Court in its full verdict would speak strongly in favour of holding two more parliamentary polls under the non-partisan caretaker government. But unfortunately, the full verdict released recently triggered further controversy as it retreated from its previous stance and spoke for forming the caretaker government with MPs, who belong to political parties. The Supreme Court's full verdict in fact diminished the hope for forging a consensus on the non-partisan caretaker government system.

The way the political situation is developing there is a mounting fear of political unrest in the coming days. The onus is on the part of the AL-led government to find ways to resolve the growing political crisis and the opposition parties should cooperate with the government to this end.

If the political situation becomes volatile and people lose their right to elect their representatives in a free and fair election, the country's democratic process will again be jeopardised. If it becomes so, the AL-led government will be held responsible for it and it may pay heavily for it as the BNP paid for its mistakes in past.

As he stresses the need for holding free and fair polls, Justice Abdul Wahhab Mia, a judge of the Appellate Division who opposed the declaration of the caretaker government system illegal, says it will be a mockery to say that all powers of the Republic belong to the people as enshrined in article 7 of the constitution unless the people get chance to practice democracy, that is, they are able to exercise their rights to vote in a free, fair and impartial general elections.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.


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