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March 21, 2004

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Frustrating constitutional amendment

H.M Fazlul Bari

The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh is going to be amended for the fourteenth time. Ours is a rigid Constitution amendment of which requires some procedural technicalities. As the BNP-led coalition govt. has landslide majority in the Parliament, the proposed amendment is expected to be passed without much difficulty.

The Constitution (14th Amendment) Bill contains inter alia the following major changes:

(a) A new Article, 4A will be inserted in the Constitution to make provisions for preservation and hanging of portraits of the President and Prime Minister in Govt., semi-govt. offices etc.

(b) An amendment has been proposed to Art. 59 for holding fresh election at the local govt. bodies after the expiry of their tenure within 90 days. It also provides for temporarily appointing govt. officials as administrator to the elected representatives at the end of their terms to hold a new election within 90 days.

(c) The proposed amendment in Art. 65(3) provides for 45 reserved seats for women in the parliament which will be distributed on the basis of proportionate representation of the political parties. This system will be for 10 years.

(d) The proposed amendment in Art. 148 will empower the Chief Election Commissioner to administer oath to the ups if the speaker fails to do so within 3 days of election.

Nothing is sillier than insertion of Art. 4A in the Constitution for hanging the portrait of President and the Prime Minister. In fact, not a single Constitution in the world contains such a provision. Again, such an amendment is inconsistent with the very sanctity of the Constitution itself.

Amendment of Art. 59 (3) is a positive step to develop our nascent democracy, in particular the election of local govt bodies. The provision is intended to prevent prolonged continuity in the office sine die on the plea of judicial injunction on fresh election. Suggestions may be put forward that there must be transparent rules, which demarcates the powers, functions of the elected representatives and govt. officials in interim period. If these provisions are believed to be honestly made, the govt. should be immediately concerned with the election of Upazila Parishad.

Art. 65(3) alongwith amendment in the fourth schedule hits the most talked issue of women representation in the Parliament. To many, the proposed proportionate representation is later than the worst. While the women were demanding direct election the selection of women MPs will be a backward step as well. Again indirect election is deviation from the basic spirit of the Constitution.

The proposed amendment of Art. 148 reveals the bitter political rivalry of our lame democracy. Nevertheless this amendment is welcome in the sense that the speaker who might belong to a losing party may be disinterested to administer oath of newly elected MPs. Therefore, the power of CEC to do the same is logical enough. Again it is worth noting that oath administered by speaker is more honourable than by CEC.

Our constitution has been amended for 13 times. In most cases, except 1st, 12th, 13th, the Constitution was just emasculated to benefit the persons in power, rather than to meet people's aspiration. The 14th amendment is not an exception to that. We will welcome the amendment if direct election of woman MPs is ensured and Art 4A does not introduce an absurd issue like hanging of portraits. The Constitution is the solemn expression of the will of the people. But what does the proposed amendment of the Constitution bring for the people?

The writer is an advocate.


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