Parliamentary Democracy in Bangladesh: An Evaluation
বাংলাদেশে সংসদীয় গণতন্ত্র : একটি মূল্যায়ন
Parliamentary Democracy in Bangladesh: An Evaluation
An ideal government in Thomas Jefferson’s view is not meant to strengthen the power of many but the power of everyone within the limits of his competence. An ideal government can exist in parliamentary democracy in which everyone can exercise power within the limits of his competence. So parliamentary democracy has been the fondest dream of the people of Bangladesh since 1971. Although as a new nation, we have relatively low exposure to the practice of parliamentary democracy.
Parliamentary Democracy: What Does it Mean:
The concept of Democracy originated from the Greek words ‘Demos’ and ‘Kratos’ which means people and power respectively. Democracy thus means the power of the people. Democracy is a system of rule by temporary majorities. Democracy is not only linked with good governance but also with the fair functioning of any parliamentary majority. Parliament is the supreme law-making body. And parliamentary democracy is the rule of the majority where the minority has the right to criticise the ruling party or coalition parties.
Parliamentary Democracy in Bangladesh:
Parliamentary democracy has been being practised in Bangladesh since her birth. Moreover, after a few years of practising parliamentary democracy since its liberation in 1971. Bangladesh went through serious political instability with the staging of coups and counter-coups. In the process, by the courtesy of military dictators. The form of government was changed to the presidential system. Again in the early nineties as the democratic political forces got themselves united and succeeded in their fight against the longest-serving dictator. H M Ershad. holding of a free and fair election under a neutral caretaker government paved way for amending the constitution to revert to the parliamentary form of government in 1991.
But unfortunately, the last several years of parliamentary democracy fell for short of living up to the public expectation since February 1991. Three parliaments 5th, 7th and 8th were elected through popular voting under a non-partisan caretaker government system and another short-lived parliament, the 6th one, was elected amidst boycott by all mainstream political parties and very low voters turnout.
The public did not expect much from the 6th parliament which functioned for less than two weeks. But the people of the country had great expectations from the 5th, 7th and 8th parliaments which have been elected through fair polls under a caretaker government.
Political intolerance, confrontational politics, winner takes all attitude halted our advancement to the path of a sustained democratic culture. Repeated walkouts, abstentions and permanent house boycotts by the opposition in all these three parliaments made the parliamentary affairs all the more dull and non-effective. Treasury bench led one-sided discussions in half-empty parliaments did not bear no significance for the constituents.
It is unfortunate that the chiefs of major political parties are not on talking terms. Having seen the democratic practices in other democratic countries, one feels ashamed of what has been happening in Bangladesh. The unfortunate part of Bangladesh politics is that the chiefs of the two major political parties do not talk to each other. It goes against the very fundamental principle of democracy.
Role of the Speaker in Parliamentary Democracy:
The role of the speaker is crucial in the house, as the expert says, the most essential quality of the speaker is his strict impartiality. He has to protect the rights of all sections of the House. As an umpire, he has to see that rules of the House are observed by all.
The speaker is bound to go by the constitution and the rules of procedure of the parliament to run the business of the house. He takes an oath to run the House as per the constitution and the rules of procedure of the Jatiya Sangsad. He will preserve, protect and defend the constitution. If the speaker. the guardian of the House is always accused of a partial role in running parliament then the whole purpose is ended in smoke.
In Bangladesh, the business advisory committee headed by the speaker sits to allocate the business and duration of the session. But the opinion of the opposition parties has never been accepted. The ruling party dominates the committee. The speaker never raises his voice in favour of any opposition lawmaker. Opposition parties always blame the speaker for his partial role at the house.
Role of the House Leader:
In making the parliament effective in a line with the expectations of the people the roles of the house leader are vital. In a parliamentary democracy, the leader of the house is entitled to act as the safeguard for the ruling and opposition lawmakers though slue is elected from the ruling party. The leader of the house creates concord among all the activities of the parliament and play the main role to run the house according to the government’s plan and gives suggestions to the speaker. The leader of the House, also the chief of the executive popularly known as the prime minister, has to play an anchor role in promoting parliamentary democracy.
Role of the Leader of Opposition Party:
The leader of the opposition in the house is considered the chief of the shadow government. If his party is in power, the strategy to run the state will be reflected in his party activities in and outside the parliament. Consulting with the house leader and whips, the opposition leader will also give the guidelines to accomplish the parliament’s business with efficiency. He will build the bridge of understanding between the ruling party and the opposition through frequent meetings with the House leader.
Role of Parliament Members:
Parliament members are responsible for promulgating and changing laws and policies. So parliament members are to be familiar with the existing laws and policies. They must be sensitive and well-informed about the needs and demands of the people. So that they can time-befitting and people welfare-oriented laws and policies. They must have vision and farsightedness. So that they can make long-term policies for the welfare of the country. The MPs should participate in the parliamentary debate in a constructive manner. They should be prompt and efficient in making questions and supplementary questions.
Functioning of the committees:
If the parliament is the nucleus of a democratic state, then the committee system within the parliament is the heart of the nucleus. The committee system is the heart of the nucleus. The “committees system” is an effective way of ensuring executive accountability to the legislature. There are fifty-one parliamentary committees in our parliament. Among them, thirty-nine are parliamentary standing committees. Each committee is headed by a parliament member.
In fact, committee members dictate and oversee the activities of the executive branch of the government. So effective committee system strengthens the parliamentary democracy balancing power between executive and legislature.
Bottlenecks of our Parliamentary Democracy:
Democracy, in particular, involves a process of trial and error. The parliamentary democracy of Bangladesh is no exception to that. But parliamentary democracy of Bangladesh faces some inherent problems which are given below:
i. Confrontational politics:
In Bangladesh, the aimless and valueless politics has become the order of the day intolerance, violence and autocratic tendency have become the invariable contents of our political activities. Such confrontational politics halted our advancement to the path of parliamentary democracy.
ii. Boycotting the parliament:
The successive opposition parties have been boycotting the parliaments for months thus making the parliament basically ineffective in terms of democracy. Interestingly, the boycotting members of the successful opposition parties continued to draw the pay and allowances though they did not perform the duties for which they were elected. This cannot be termed as ethical under any acceptable definition.
Hartal is a politically bankrupt strategy, which makes the whole nation pay dearly for the fulfilment of a party’s objective. Hartal and violence instead of dialogue and discussion in the House has made the parliamentary democracy fruitless.
iv. Lack of consensus and trust:
The most unfortunate part of Bangladesh politics is that the chiefs of the two major political parties do not talk to each other. They cannot reach in consensus over any national and international issues. The ruling party treat the opposition party as an enemy. Again the opposition party think that the ruling party is anti-people. v. Lack of democracy in Party: Political parties are not democratic in their structures. There is the hardly a genuine process for elections within the party by rank and file members. As a result, they cannot practice democratic behaviour in the house.
vi. Excessive power of the executive branch:
The parliamentary system of government has been termed by the British MP Tony Benn as a Prime Ministerial Government the vastly growing powers of the executive branch of the statehouse diminished the functions of parliament.
vii. Lack of democratic behaviour inside the parliament:
It is unfortunate the behaviours and speech of some of our lawmakers verged on vulgarity inside the parliament.
viii. Lack of diversity of professions among MPs:
The majority of MPs are drawn from the business section because only they can afford to run elections with ‘big money. The lack of diversity of professions among MPs appears to have a negative impact on parliamentary democracy.
To make the parliamentary democracy effective, the following measures may be taken into account.
- The relationship between the house leader and the opposition leader should be developed in the greater interest of the parliamentary democracy. The nation expects their due role in and outside the Jatiya Sangsad.
- The speaker should have strict impartiality in running the parliamentary session.
- The speaker should arrange a dialogue between the ruling and the opposition parties before every session.
- The rules of procedure of the parliament should be amended incorporating some provisions like the formation of the standing committee at inaugural session of each new parliament. Some vital chairman posts including public accounts committee should be nominated from opposition lawmakers.
- The prohibition of floor crossing should be abolished bringing an amendment in the constitution.
- Country’s political culture should be enriched. Politicians should believe and practice that parliament is the centre of all discussions.
- Major political parties should abide by their party constitutions. Nominations should be given to the party members on the basis of merit, experience, honesty and leadership quality.
- Political parties should avoid the system of hartal as it creates huge economic hindrances which are not expected in the age of globalization. They rather try to find different policies.
Sick politics has been taking a heavy toll of the country’s spirit of parliamentary democracy which the nation had achieved with great sacrifice. If the parliamentary democracy becomes dysfunctional, the entire country suffers. Instead of moving forward, we will regress. We should know that democracy is the rule of the majority but the minority party’s right must be protected fully. To consolidate parliamentary democracy, the majority has to work with the minority in the parliament. This alone ensures the effectiveness of the democratic process.
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