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EC for constitutional review commission

Seeks amendments to ensure strong parliamentary democracy

The Election Commission (EC) will ask the government to form a constitution review commission to recommend amendments critical to ensuring a strong parliamentary democracy.

Talking to reporters at his office yesterday, Election Commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain said a number of issues need to be addressed through constitutional amendments.

Those include allowing lawmakers to play due role in parliament, increasing the number of parliamentary seats, introducing bi-cameral parliament and proportional representation, raising the number of reserved seats for women through direct election and restructuring power between the highest constitutional posts.

“Our recommendation to form the review commission will be among the suggestions to be sent immediately to the government along with the outcome of EC's electoral reforms talks with political parties.

He added that the review commission to be comprised of legal experts can come up with a set of recommendations outlining how to bring necessary changes to the constitution.

Replying to a query, he said: “It's true the present government cannot amend the constitution in absence of parliament. However, it can at least begin the work to help the next parliament take decisions on the issues.”

Sohul also said the EC would ask the government to identify the war criminals and ensure their trial so that they cannot contest elections.

“We have already incorporated in the electoral laws provisions to that end. But the war criminals would have to be convicted if they are to be adjudged disqualified from the polls,” he observed.

The election commissioner said political parties raised the issues and made suggestions during the dialogue with the EC between September last year and February.

In its report on the talks, the EC has made a set of recommendations in line with what had been discussed with the political parties.

Those include the one for amending article 70 of the constitution that says a lawmaker from a political party shall vacate his seat if he resigns from the party or votes against it in parliament.

Defending the proposal, Sohul said the lawmakers should have freedom to express opinion in parliament without fear of losing membership.

He added, “Article 70 has long been blamed for preventing lawmakers from playing due role in parliament. So, it should be amended in consultation with the constitutional experts.”

Explaining their stance in favour of increasing the number of parliamentary seats, he said back when the number of parliamentary seats was fixed at 300 the country's population was 7.50 crore. Over the years, the population has doubled warranting a rise in constituencies to ensure proper representation of the electorates.

Similarly, Sohul said, the number of women reserved seats should be increased with a direct election system in place to help empowerment of women.

Besides, he said, the government can also consider introducing bi-cameral parliament and proportional representation, a system in which political parties are represented in parliament in proportion to percentage of the vote they get in polls.

He however did not elaborate on re-structuring of power between the highest constitutional posts.

The issue regarding a balance of power between the president and prime minister has been much-talked in the last few months.

Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed in his address to the nation on May 12 stressed the need for power re-structuring among the highest constitutional posts.

In response to criticism that the EC is stepping beyond its jurisdiction by making the recommendations to the government, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda has earlier said they have not done anything outside their dominion.

"It is well within our jurisdiction to make recommendations to the government on issues relating to ensuring free, fair and credible elections," he said on February 27.

Citing examples from the Indian EC's practices, he said the CEC there has made 58 recommendations to their prime minister including the ones for amending the constitution.

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