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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 56
February 16 , 2008

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Law opinion

Republic, political parties and local government

Justice Mohammad Gholam Rabbani

The dictionary meaning of the term 'republic' is 'a country wherein the people elect their government'. Thus republic and democracy are synonyms. Democracy is a system of government for the people through representatives whom they elect within the atmosphere of freedom of speech, religion and political opinion. Second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America dated July 4, 1776, runs as follows: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving the just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson was president of the USA from 1801 to 1809. He died broke. He sold his books to the Library of Congress and his friends organised a lottery to sell part of his lands, but that was not enough. He died a widower on July 4, which was the 50th anniversary day of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson's last words were, “Is it the Fourth? I resign my sprit to God, my daughter and my country.” His epitaph reads: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and the father of the University of Virginia.” The epitaph, however, did not include “President of the United States” obviously because he was the president by the choice of the people and it was not considered at all his achievement. This is one among numerous instances for which democracy in USA did not face any obstacle so long.

Yet, a question crops up due to recent scenario in USA whether presidential system in USA has reached the end point. Then comes the similar question due to recent scenario in Bangladesh whether parliamentary system has reached the end point. The answer will be yes if we do not accept the statement that though in a democratic State every citizen would participate in public administration, but nowadays the States are so much larger territorially and so numerous in population that the practice is impossible. This problem of people's participation was somehow solved until now with the device of the representative government. It is based on doctrine of delegation of power. Sovereignty belongs to the people so they can surrender it to their single representative or a group of representatives. Then he or they rule on the authority of the metaphysical general will, which however in practice supercedes all individual wills. Representative government, being conditional on the delegation of power, is a negation of democracy. At best it can be said that it is a government for the people, but government of the people and by the people is only possible in direct democracy.

With the system of representative government political parties formed by self-selected leaders rise to usurp individual sovereignty and thus the party system eclipses the former. Under representative system, government is theoretically controlled by the people, at least indirectly through the parliament. But under the party system government is controlled by the party in power and responsible only to it. To get the control of government parties must have a parliamentary majority and for that all means are adopted. A committee of only a few members of a party selects the candidates in the election for the members of parliament. Political practice under party system discards morality and its sole purpose becomes lust for power, sectional selfishness and class hatred. Even nominal democracy in this process disappears justifying dictatorship of one form or another.

Is direct democracy, then, at all possible or, in other words, is people's republic, then, at all possible? The answer, a very simple one, is this: Direct democracy is possible if there are local republics at the base constituting the foundation of the Republic. Through the medium of local republics every citizen will actively participate in the political administration of the entire country which will decentralise power; the function of the central government will be to co-ordinate the activities of a plurality of social, economic, educational and cultural institutions. The declaration in article 7 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, “All powers in the Republic belong to the people”, will be then a reality and cease to be an abstract idea; it will be felt and enjoyed in the daily life of individual men and women who will be, thus, restored to their position of sovereignty. A movement spreads from one local republic to another thereby every citizen interacts with the stories of “how to do it”, “the right way to do it” and “this is the way they do it.”

That was the aspiration of the people of Bangladesh who through a historical struggle for national liberation established independent, sovereign People's Republic of Bangladesh and consequently there are provisions for the local republics in the Constitution. These are to be found in article 59 and 60 of the Constitution as quoted bellow:

“59(1) Local government in every administrative unit of the Republic shall be entrusted to bodies, composed of persons elected in accordance with law.

(2) Everybody such as referred to in clause (1) shall, subject to this Constitution and any other law, perform within the appropriate administrative unit such functions as shall be prescribed by Act of Parliament, which may include functions relating to - (a) administration and the work of public officers; (b) the maintenance of public order; (c) the preparation and implementation of plans relating to public services and economic development.

“60. For the purpose of giving full effect to the provisions of article 59 Parliament shall, by law, confer powers on the local government bodies referred to in that article, including power to impose taxes for local purposes, to prepare their budgets and to maintain funds.”

Article 152 says 'Administrative unit' means a district or other area designated by law for the purposes of article 59.

Therefore, there is no logic why one would not agree that partycracy and its follow-up, the dictatorship, have engulfed the parliamentary system and consequently we have a non-party caretaker government which is not within the normal framework as in the Constitution, but as the people wished. Consequently this government is required to transfer first the administrative power to the people through Articles 59 and 60 and only then to the Parliament.


The writers is retired Judge, Appellate Division, Bangladesh Supreme Court.


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