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March 21, 2004

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Nomination of women is undemocratic

Barrister M. Moksadul Islam

Article 11 of our Constitution states that "The Republic shall be a democracy in which effective participation by the people through their elected representative in administration at all levels shall be ensured". Moreover under Article 65(2) of our Constitution a Member of the Parliament must be 'elected from single territorial constituency by direct election'.

About a half of our population are women and without any doubt their voice should be heard for our own good. Participation of women in all spheres of national life has been described by our Constitution as a fundamental principle of the state policy (Article 10). Another fundamental principle of state is that it will encourage special representation, inter alia, by women in the local government institutions (Article 9). To formulate a theory for direct election for the women parliamentarians may not be an easy one and would certainly cause conflict with the regular members. However any attempt by the government to create rubber stamp Parliamentarians should be utterly rejected by the people. This issue need to be addressed in a broader perspective.

Understandably any provision for a limited number of regular seats to be reserved only for the women parliamentarians may not be acceptable to many diehard politicians. Direct election with the regular member or members would certainly create conflict of interest between the members. However if we can identify the causes where women representation is very much needed e.g. dowry, women education, etc. and directly elect a woman with the regular member or members for those specific purposes only. And regular member or members will have exclusive jurisdiction in all other areas then there should not be any problem in directly electing a woman member from a 'single territorial constituency' as envisages in Article 65(2). For this specific purpose a 'single territorial constituency' can consist of one or more regular 'single territorial constituency'. A woman member should be advised to avoid other areas where the regular members will have exclusive jurisdiction

The provision for 'reserved seat' for 30 or 45 in the name of so called women empowerment is absurd as it goes against all norms of democracy. This nomination or selection process may also lead to nepotism and there is every possibility that many innocent women would be forced to submit themselves to the trap of the unscrupulous politicians. Parliamentarians nominated for the 'reserved seats' not only lacks any constituency to serve but also lacks accountability to any citizen of the country. These reserved women parliamentarians will have no 'single territorial constituency' as envisaged in Article 65(2) of the Constitution.

There is nothing wrong when an exception is made for something (for example Article 45 which modifies fundamental rights in respect of disciplinary force or Art. 47 which made provisions for some exceptions to the Fundamental Rights) provided it is not arbitrary and guided by rules. In one hand probably our Constitution is the only Constitution which defines democracy (Art. 11), on the other hand it is full of contradictions and sometimes it is really difficult to find consistency between the Articles. For example it is really hard to equate Article 46 (which provides provision for indemnification) with the provisions of Fundamental Rights described in Part III of our Constitution; and in many places undemocratic theories are formulated only to favour party politics at the cost of democracy. For example insertion of Chapter IIA in Part IV of our Constitution which created provision for Non-Party Care-Taker Government and most importantly Article 70 which strictly restricts a member to cast vote against his political party or to decide against leadership and the same also prohibits floor crossing.

There is no provision in our Constitution which supports indirect election, however, in 10th amendment Clause 3 of Article 65 in contradiction with Clause 2 of the same made a temporary provision for 30 'reserved seats' in the Parliament exclusively for women folks who were elected by the three hundred regular elected members. This temporary provision expired on 14th July 2001. However, present government has decided in principle to amend (14th amendment) our Constitution and increase the number of reserve seats for women to 45. Neither they will be directly elected nor will they have any 'single territorial constituency'.

The provision for thirty reserved seats was first enacted when autocratic regime was in power and present government is attempting to do the same under the guise of absolute majority, backed by Article 70. This absolute majority has probably made our government blind and people are seeing, at least to some extent, similarity between a government with absolute majority and autocratic regime.

If the purpose of creating exclusive 'reserve seats' for our women folks is only to address the women problem in general then we do not need 30 or 45 rubber stamps because that purpose can well be served through the existing 'Ministry of Women & Children Affairs'. Each and every one of the 45 women Parliamentarians will apparently have the jurisdiction covering the entire country. As a result they will not server any purpose as everyone's responsibility is no one's responsibility and as none will have any territorial jurisdiction no one can be held responsible for any thing. On top political doctrine of 'collective responsibility' has no place in our politics.

In the above premises the idea of reserve seats for our women folks is completely eyewash and also a phoney idea formulated to divert the attention from the real issue. It may not be wrong to say that any provision for reserve seats for women parliamentarians is an insult to our women and should simply be rejected immediately by people from all walks of life as it certainly violates the fabric of democracy and as such our Constitution.

Barrister M. Moksadul Islam is an advocate of Supreme Court of Bangladesh.


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