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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Saturday, October 29, 2011
OP-ED

Straight Line

Setting qualifications for Members of Parliament

Photo: STAR

Right-thinking citizens would perhaps agree that parliaments are solemn constitutional entities that are charged with onerous responsibilities of framing the law. In addition, parliament invariably exercises control over public finance. Thus the parliament, although a creature of the constitution, appears to be supreme. Whether or not in Bangladesh we have parliamentary supremacy may perhaps be debated. However, an issue that engages thinking minds is the aspect of qualifications of the members of the august institution of parliament.

Interestingly enough, Congressmen in America do not exhibit in public any sense of self-importance. In fact, they cannot afford to. They would be lacerated by the press if they start showing any sense of egoism. Visitors to the chambers on Capitol Hill, may come across walls of the ante-room covered with cartoons mercilessly making fun of Congressmen. The legislators there can laugh at themselves and at one another. Congressmen never speak of the congress as supreme. They know that the congress is a creature of the constitution and it is only the constitution that is supreme.

The members of Parliament of Bangladesh exhibit their awareness of the solemnity of the legislature and too often we hear the prefix of 'Mohan' meaning great attributed to the august body. This is as it should be. However, one may be surprised to find that on the issue of qualification and disqualification of parliamentary membership as enshrined in the constitution of Bangladesh, disproportionately large space has been devoted to aspects of disqualification as opposed to the requirement of qualification.

To be specific, Article 66 of our constitution stipulates that a person is not eliglble for election as, or for being, a Member of Parliament if (1) he is declared by a competent court to be of unsound mind, (2) he is an undischarged insolvent, (3) he acquires the citizenship of, or affirms or acknowledges allegiance to, a foreign State, (4) he has been convicted for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude and sentenced to suffer imprisonment of two years or more unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release, (5) he holds an office of profit in the service of the Republic other than an office which is declared by the Constitution or any other law not to disqualify its holders; or (6) he is disqualified for such election by or under any law.

Interestingly, to be qualified for parliamentary election a person must fulfill two conditions: (1) he must be a citizen of Bangladesh and (2) he must have attained the age of 25 years, and he must not be otherwise disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of Parliament.

It would, therefore, appear that on the issue of eligibility the first qualification is usually an accident of birth, and the second is inevitably the result of the inexorable passage of time. The question is, will more prescription of disqualifications serve any salutary purpose? Is it not time to advocate for some positive qualifications for aspirants to a parliamentary career?

Upon a closer scrutiny, one cannot fail to be struck by the grim irony of the situation where the one job for which one needs no training or qualification whatsoever is the job of legislating for and governing a sizable democracy in the world. One needs years of training to attend to a boiler or to mind a machine, to supervise a shop floor or to build a bridge, to argue a case in law court or to operate upon a human body. However, to steer the lives and destinies of more than 150 million human beings one is not required to have any education or equipment at all.

On the subject under discussion, one would like to remember the memorable words of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, former President of the Republic of India, spoken on 26 November, 1949 during the course of formally adopting the Indian constitution: "I would have liked to have some qualifications laid down for members of the Legislatures. It is anomalous that we should insist upon high qualifications for those who administer or help in administering the law, but none for those who make it except that they are elected. A law-giver requires intellectual equipment but, even more than that, the capacity to take a balanced view of things, to act independently and above all to be true to the fundamental values in life- in one word, to have character".

Will our wise and erudite jurists and politicians give some thoughts to the issue?

The writer is a Columnist for The Daily Star.

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