• Thursday, April 17, 2014

News Analysis

Dubious distinction for Bangladesh

Shakhawat Liton

Bangladesh set an unenviable record yesterday by constituting a new parliament, keeping the existing one in force. It means the country has now two MPs for almost every single seat.
This bizarre record follows the other unprecedented event of uncontested election of 153 MPs, more than half of the total seats in the House for direct election, in the just concluded polls. And all the credit for this goes to the Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina that has led the country to set the record which will in no way strengthen democracy and brighten the country's image.
None can find such a record in the countries practising parliamentary democracy. Countries like the UK, birthplace of the Westminster style of parliamentary democracy, New Zealand, Australia and Canada go to general elections through dissolving their parliaments. So, the question of constituting one parliament keeping the existing one in existence does not arise in those countries.
India is only exceptional. Over the past 60 years, it has held 15 general elections. Of them, parliament, popularly known as Lok Sabha, existed during the general election on eight occasions. Sometimes parliament was dissolved after the election process had begun.
But none of the previous parliaments was constituted keeping the existing one in force. The rest of the time parliament was dissolved much earlier than its tenure ended due to political instability within the House and general elections were held after their dissolution.
India's first parliament was constituted on April 17, 1952 following a general election held in the same year. That parliament existed when the general election to the second parliament was held in 1957. But the first parliament was dissolved on April 4, 1957, paving the way for new MPs to take the oath to constitute the second parliament next day.   
India never deviated from this as the 14th Lok Sabha was dissolved by the president on the recommendation of the union cabinet on May 18, 2009, paving the way for the constitution of the newly elected 15th Lok Sabha which still exists. And election to the 16th Lok Sabha is set to begin in mid April this year.
Many policymakers of the ruling Awami League and the government had earlier cited the Indian instances in defence of holding the general election without dissolution of the current parliament. But the abnormal record they created yesterday by having the new MPs-elect take the oath of office does not conform to the tradition set through the Indian practice.
In making the record of constituting the 10th parliament and yet keeping the ninth in force, the government has clearly ignored the constitution which in Article 123 emphatically prevents MPs elected in the just concluded election from taking the oath of office.  
In the opinion of some ruling AL leaders, the constitution does not impose any restriction on them regarding the swearing in of new lawmakers, but they will not assume office until the tenure of the current ninth parliament expires on January 25. But this explanation falls flat as Article 148 clearly says a person required to take the oath of office before he enters upon office shall be deemed to have entered upon the office immediately after he takes the oath. So, the MPs who took the oath yesterday have assumed office.
The formation of the 10th parliament has been mired in legal controversy. As such, the legality of the new cabinet to be formed on Sunday will also invite constitutional controversy since the government will be a product of the new parliament.
 And no action of the government and the new parliament will be free from scrutiny on legal grounds.

 

Published: 12:00 am Friday, January 10, 2014

Last modified: 8:35 pm Friday, January 10, 2014

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