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|Volume 12 |Issue 05| February 01, 2013 ||
THUS SPAKE THE PRESIDENT
President Zillur Rahman, as the head of the State, takes precedence over everyone in Bangladesh. He is the first citizen of the nation. According to the constitution, he enjoys immense immunity. He is not answerable in any court for anything done or omitted by him in the exercise or purported exercise of the functions of his office. During his term in office as the President no criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the president, and no process for his arrest or imprisonment can be issued from any court.
And in view of parliamentary affairs experts, the president in the parliamentary form of the government is considered as the symbol of national unity and his position is above partisan politics. He never speaks in line with any party's politics. Every individual and followers of political parties irrespective of their ideology honour the President. And after being elected as the President, he de-links his relation with the political party even the one hat elected him to the top constitutional post.
But the way President Zillur Rahman in his address to the parliament on January 27 blasted the main opposition BNP proved his inability to rise above party politics. He blindly lauded the Awami League-led government's performance and did not find any failure or wrongdoing in the government's work. "The BNP had failed to discharge its constitutional and democratic obligation by refraining from regularly participating in parliament over the last four years."
He further states: "If the main opposition considered themselves as people's representatives and servants, it was its obligation to discharge its responsibilities by joining the parliament and expressing its views through constructive discussions in and outside parliament."
The president said that clinging onto any particular position or refraining from carrying out responsibilities bestowed by the people through the adoption of a rigid stance on parliament boycott did not conform to democratic behaviour.
"I therefore once again urge the opposition in this final year of the present parliament and government to please shun the path of igniting fire, violence and anarchy. Please place all your complaints, proposals, recommendations and opinions in parliament and help democracy flourish."
What the President said is nothing but a repetition of what has been said by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her colleagues in the cabinet. But it is unbecoming when the President himself use the words that are being used by the ruling party leaders to castigate their political rivals.
One may argue that the President's observation on the opposition party's boycott is true. It is the constitutional obligation of every MP to join the proceedings of the parliament. But in blasting the main opposition BNP, the President might have forgotten his own past in the last parliament. When he was an MP of the last eighth parliament [2001-2006], he, along with his party deputies, had boycotted 223 of 373 sittings of the five-year tenure of the then parliament. This means that he and AL MPs joined only 150 sittings. And what did AL MPs do in the fifth parliament [1991-1995]? He was not a lawmaker in the fifth parliament. But AL MPs boycotted 135 of 400 sittings at that time.
The main opposition BNP has failed to discharge its constitutional and democratic obligation by refraining from regularly participating in parliament over the last four years and the president as an MP in the eighth parliament has failed to discharge his constitutional obligation. And the ruling AL has also failed to discharge its constitutional and democratic obligation in the fifth and eighth parliaments by refraining from regularly participating in it.
It should be noted that President Zillur Rahman did not find opposition MPs in the House during his three previous addresses in 2010, 2011 and 2012. But he did not launch blistering attacks on the main opposition MPs for their boycott in his three addresses. Why has he become so attacking in his tone? The ruling AL and the government know the reasons behind it. The cabinet led-by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had approved the speech that the President read out in the parliament. Therefore, the government itself brought the President into controversy. The government abused the President's address to publicise its own agenda and to castigate the main opposition BNP. And the President has found no other way but to read it out in the parliament.
When seasoned politician Zillur Rahman took oath as the country's new President on February 12, 2009, expectations ran high that he would work to restore the dignity and integrity to the top constitutional post, which was mired in controversy by his predecessor Iajuddin Ahmed. But it did not take long for him to dash such hopes. The culture of abusing the office of President did not allow Zillur Rahman to remain above controversy. Moreover Zillur Rahman could not keep his office, Bangabhban, above political controversy. For instance, on the advice of the prime minister, the President has granted clemency to 21 persons sentenced to death in different cases. In doing so, the honourable President set a bizarre record, as his predecessors in over the past three decades– from1972 to 2008– granted clemency to only four people. Awarding the Presidential clemency to some ruling party men has also appeared as a glaring example of how the government is abusing the extraordinary power.
The office of the President is a ceremonial one and many people believe that the President has noting to do without being advised by the Prime Minister. In a sense it is partially true since in exercise of all functions assigned to him by the constitution or any law, the president is required to act on the advice of the prime minister except that he shall act at his own discretion in matters of appointment of the Prime Minister and the Chief justice.
The President, if he wants, may play a significant role for the betterment of the country and to strengthen the democratic process. Constitutional experts believe that a man of high stature, integrity and experience in holding the office of the president can exert great influence on the executive by way of advice and counseling. The president can also play a great role in building a bridge between the government and the opposition to strengthen the parliamentary democracy.
Unfortunately the President's latest address in parliament will in no way bridge the gap between the government and the opposition, rather his diatribe may widen it further.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.
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