The Awami League and the BNP claim that they are working for strengthening democracy in the country. But neither of them practises democracy within the party. The concluding part of our series focuses on how the two chiefs enjoy absolute control over the parties.
Khaleda Zia's powers are more absolute in the BNP than those Sheikh Hasina enjoys in the Awami League, according to the two parties' constitutions.
As chairperson, Khaleda enjoys authority to control the overall functions of the BNP. Her party constitution also provides her with powers to abolish at any time the party's top bodies, such as the national executive and national standing committees, if she thinks necessary.
AL chief Hasina, however, does not enjoy such powers. The AL charter limits her authority in many ways and has provisions for control over party affairs through collective leadership.
In reality, both Khaleda and Hasina have gradually emerged as supreme leaders in their parties--BNP and AL-- which have been running the country alternately since the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991. Currently, there is none in their parties to question and challenge their leadership and decisions.
Khaleda, according to the BNP's charter, is the chief officer of the party and she has powers to control, supervise and coordinate the party's overall activities.
For this purpose, she is empowered to exercise her authority over the national council, national executive and standing committee, and subject committees, and committees formed on the basis of her nominations. She can also control, supervise and coordinate the activities of those committees.
If she deems necessary, she can take punitive action against any members of those committees. And if she thinks, she can dissolve those committees and replace them with her own.
As chief of the national executive committee, she also enjoys the authority to determine the powers and functions of the members of this committee.
The BNP charter empowers her to preside over the meetings of the national council, national executive committee and national standing committee. If she wishes, she may authorise anybody to preside over those meetings.
She enjoys the authority to fill any vacancy in the national executive committee and national standing committee.
The national council is the largest forum of the BNP. It consists of the party's several thousands of grassroots level leaders countrywide and all central leaders and MPs. Its functions are to elect the party chief and all other office bearers of the party's national executive and standing committees. The national council is also empowered to amend the party charter.
The national executive committee consisting of more than 300 members led by Khaleda Zia enjoys fewer powers than those Khaleda personally enjoys. It controls, supervises and coordinates the activities of the party's front organisations and follows the directives of the national standing committee.
The national standing committee, the highest policy making body, is comprised of 19 members, including the party chief.
Khaleda Zia also enjoys sweeping authority over the BNP's parliamentary party. The parliamentary party must consult her to elect its leader, deputy leader, chief whip and whips. If any party MP ignores the party chief's any decision on parliamentary matters, s/he will lose the party's membership.
Enjoying such powers, Khaleda Zia has been leading the BNP for three decades since her election to the party chairperson's position on May 10, 1984. She has been prime minister thrice.
The AL charter does not empower Hasina, as party chief, to control, supervise and coordinate the overall activities of the organisation. She cannot dissolve any committees of the party.
As party president, she is empowered to preside over all meetings of the party's national council, national committee, central working committee and the presidium.
Hasina enjoys the power to direct, advise and control the AL parliamentary party or its members. But she needs to consult with the presidium to exercise this power.
If any MP ignores her directive and violates the AL constitution, she may place the issue before the AL central working committee in consultation with the presidium to take necessary action to this effect.
She has the authority to nominate 26 members to the 73-members AL central working committee. But again, she needs to consult with the presidium to exercise this power.
Hasina enjoys the power to issue rulings explaining any provision of the party constitution.
She needs to consult with the presidium to nominate members of the committees on various subjects.
The AL chief has the power to form a 41-member advisory council of the party. She needs to consult with the advisory council on national and international issues.
She has, however, unilateral authority to form departmental sub-committees.
If any party office bearer fails to perform his/her duties, as the chief Hasina can take action against him/her. But she needs to have her action approved by the AL central working committee meeting.
The AL council consists of several thousand grassroots level and central leaders empowered to elect the party chief, general secretary, 13 presidium members and other office bearers on the central working committee.
The party's 166-member national committee led by Hasina is empowered to coordinate between the AL central working committee and the national council. It has powers to consider appeals against the central committee's actions against any party member. Its decision will be final.
With such powers, Hasina has been leading the AL for more than three decades since her election as party chief in 1981. She is in her third term as prime minister.