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Why are we still continuing with a 'viceregal' political system? - Rounaq Jahan

Eroding democratic values and Constitution - Dr. M Zahir

Democracy: An unfinished agenda - Dr Kamal Hossain

A case for proportional representation - Rashed Khan Menon

Is majority rule same as democratic rule? - Kazi Anwarul Masud

Responsibilities of majority rule - Muhammad Zamir

The issue is democratic culture - Emajuddin Ahamed

Leaders and politicians - Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

Black money in electioneering - Inam Ahmed

Party nomination on sale - Rezaul Karim

The tale of limping parliament - Reaz Ahmed

Politicians hindering progress - AH Jaffor Ullah

Whither parliamentary standing committees - Shakhawat Liton

Politicians must take blame for failures - Syed Ashfaqul Haque

Antagonism takes precedence over understanding Shakhawat Liton

Thirteen years of democratic experience: Strengths and weaknesses Reaz Ahmad

Distorted political culture Shameem Mahmud

Party constitutions: Rarely followed Rezaul Karim



Party constitutions: Rarely followed

Rezaul Karim

Although the major political parties in Bangladesh, particularly the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Awami League, have continued speaking about establishing democracy in the country since their birth, but if we analyse and leaf through the pages of the constitutions of the parties we will see that there is serious lack of democracy and absence of democratic system within the parties themselves. Both the parties also speak about transparency and accountability, but these are merely considered as lip service now-a-days because the parties do not maintain those within.

Both the BNP and Awami League have miserably failed to establish democratic system within their respective parties and the party leaderships continued sort of dictatorship in running the party affairs. Chairman or President of the party holds absolute authority and everything is determined as per their desire. The wishes of the chief of the party are given highest importance. Everybody assumes that BNP means Khaleda Zia and Awami League means Sheikh Hasina. Both the two major parties are absolutely in the grips of their chiefs and in future family members might keep the parties in their grips too.

Awami League formerly Awami Muslim League was established on June 23 in 1949. However, in 1955 the word "Muslim" was dropped from the nomenclature. The BNP was formed on September 1 in 1978. It seems that both the parties have become quite old and matured, but the two parties have not been seen making any effort to bring or practice democracy within, rather dictatorship in running party affairs seems getting stronger day by day. There is none in the two parties dare speak against any decision of the party chairman or president even it goes wrong.

Both the parties seem run on the basis of two words -- "Yes" and "No". Leaders and activists of both the parties are apparently highly obedient and they say yes when their party chairman or president says yes and they say no when their chief says no. The country might have advanced much if the leaders and activists adhered to the laws of the land changed the way they complied with the decisions of their party chiefs.

It is true that most articles and clauses of the constitutions of both the BNP and Awami League provided democratic system, but most cases these are not followed it in matters of decision making. Both the parties do not hold their national council for years and leadership remains in the same hand years after years. Awami League's constitution previously had the provision of holding national council after every two years, but later it amended it to after every three years.

BNP constitution has also the provision to hold its national council after every two years. But not a single party active in politics holds its council in time. Awami League held its council recently but the time difference between Awami League's two council meetings was about 10 years. The national council of BNP is not being held for over a decade. BNP's last council was held on September 1-2, 1993.

Though the constitutions of both the parties provided that leadership must be elected through the council, but there is no voting in the councils. Party chairman or president fills up the posts of the party office-bearers as per their choice, wish and desire, and there is none to say anything against any selection.

Currently in BNP, from party chief to district-level leaders, most are holding the posts even after expiry of their tenures, violating the party's constitution that requires elections every two years. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who was elected the party chief in 1997, is currently leading the BNP into the fourth year without party mandate. The BNP constitution lays down that the national council members will directly vote the chairman into office for two years.

Similarly, the tenure of National Executive Committee (NEC) has expired long ago. The last BNP council was held in 1993 and an extended meeting in 1996. This party that won 195 seats in the last general elections has a 15-tier organisational structure, of which the National Standing Committee (NSC) and the NEC are pivotal. The NSC is supposed to sit once every month and the NEC once every three months. But they seldom hold meetings. The NSC, the highest decision-making body of the BNP, last met on July 17, 2003 at the Prime Minister's Office to nominate a candidate for the Netrokona-3 by-polls. Since 1996, the NEC is yet to hold a full-fledged meeting.

The NSC is supposed to comprise 15 members nominated by the chairperson, but the body has long been operating with 12 members for years. The NEC should also have a minimum of 25 women members and another 25 representing workers, freedom fighters, farmers, indigenous communities and other sections of society. But there are only 12 women members.

The constitution of BNP entrusts absolute authority to the party Chairman and its chief holds all the executive powers of the party. The Chairman will determine the posts, positions, responsibilities and authority of various office-bearers of the office. The party Chairman has the absolute authority to cancel membership and take disciplinary action against any member for misbehaviour, violation of discipline and anti-party activities.

While in Awami League, the president will be considered head of the party and he/she will chair all meetings of the party's council, central working committee and presidium. The president if required will interpret any clause of the constitution and pass ruling accordingly. As per the constitution, the Awami League President will announce the nomination of members of the central working committee.

The role of Secretary General of both the BNP and Awami League is pretty less important. There is no such mention of the power and authority of party secretary general or general secretary in the constitutions of the two parties, which is not at all consistent with democracy. In BNP, there is no separate article or clause regarding secretary general of the party, but Awami League's constitution describes that the general secretary is the organisation's chief working secretary. There is a wide gap between the powers and authority of the Chairman and those of the Secretary General or General Secretary.

As per the constitutional provision of BNP, the Chairman will control, supervise and coordinate all the activities of the party and to that end will wield authority over all the committees. The Chairman, if needed can also be able to take action against any member of any committee. The Chairman may abolish the national executive committee, the national standing committee, various subject committees and other committees nominated by the Chairman.

In BNP's constitution, there is provision of impeachment of party Chairman through a no-confidence motion by two-third of the national council members and this motion will require the support of three-fourth of the members. But this is quite absurd to remove Chairman because almost all members of the council are directly nominated by the Chairman. However, Awami League's constitution has no provision for impeachment of the party chief or disciplinary action against any central leader.

Among the parties, there are some innovative and positive clauses in the Constitution of BNP, which no other party constitution has. Those includes members ID card, 10 percent quota for women in the 251-member national executive committee and another 10 percent representations from workers, freedom fighters, farmers, tribal and other sections of the society. But the BNP usually does not maintain the provisions as written in the constitution.

In conclusion, it clearly seems that the two major political parties to a greater extent do not follow their constitutions and there is little scope for anyone to express their opinion freely. There is truly little room of democratic practice within the political parties and differences of opinion in the two parties are considered as a challenge to the leadership, but not as a democratic right. When differences of opinion emerge in any party, particularly within BNP and Awami League, a party invariably lead to a formal split.
The writer is a senior political reporter of The Daily Star.

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