Nine months of the 9th parliament
NINE is a memorable number close to our heart. After nine months of arms struggle, this nation was liberated in 1971 from the brutal Pakistani forces. The next milestone was crossed in 1991 when the nation was liberated for the second time from the hands of the military-civil autocrats. The third milestone was crossed in January 2009, after a two-year pause in democratic governance, when the nation once again embraced democracy via the 9th parliament.
Nine months have elapsed since the government of Sheikh Hasina began its journey with a four-fifths majority in the 9th parliament. This is Sheikh Hasina's second term as prime minister since 1996. It certainly looks like nine months have been whisked away from the life of the 9th parliament. Readers who remember the 1971 Liberation War would agree that those nine months seemed never-ending. Good times are said to run fast; so now is right moment to look at how good the time in the House was over the last nine months.
It certainly has been good for the treasury bench. The opposition, both the leader and her alliance, is certainly in disarray. Today, we are witnessing a kind of repetition of the 8th parliament. Presently, the opposition is out of the House on flimsy grounds. Ours is the only democratic nation where the opposition has no say in deciding who sits where. Today's dispute is about how many opposition MPs sit in the front row; tomorrow it might be about who sits to the immediate right or left of the opposition leader. Whether we like it or not, this is parliamentary democracy's lowest moment. The opposition has failed to discharge its duties in the House.
Witnessing this over the last nine months, one is now convinced that our politicians have learnt little from the two-year pause in democratic governance (2007-08). In a parliamentary democracy, the parliament is the nucleus of all political activities. When the parliament becomes the home of only the treasury bench, one-eyed democracy is the result. This was why during the 8th parliament, the BNP-Jamaat alliance politicised all governmental apparatuses.
Certainly, such politics cannot sustain under a true democracy; however, it has the power to inflict lasting pain. The costs were so high in 2007-08 that the nation had to go through a prolonged period of caretaker governance. Thousands of politicians took physical and verbal abuse from caretaker authorities, and some even landed in jail for an extended period.
Ordinary voters do not want to see the politics of boycott engulfing the 9th parliament. The treasury bench must realise that boycott makes parliament one sided, even when the opposition has only 10 percent of all members. This contributes to creating an environment where crows eat crows. The outburst from the incumbent speaker on October 11 immediately comes to mind. It was indeed unprecedented that the speaker shamed his House colleagues with language unheard before, even under military-turned-civil politicians.
Certainly, one understands why this highly regraded speaker of a one-sided house was engulfed by so much anger. It was doubly puzzling to see in a parliamentary democracy a sitting senior minister castigating the speaker of the House in his absence. This has indeed broken all parliamentary etiquettes and norms.
Of course, these are not good indications for democracy to thrive. One must remember that crows generally do not eat crows unless they are desperate. Under the present circumstances, it is possible that with a one-sided House this behaviour will continue. Then, what is the way out?
If one understands this nation's politics and home-grown democracy, there is no easy way out. However, the treasury bench must make the first move to bring back the opposition even if it needs to make some concessions. The present stalemate with the opposition and their demands is so widespread that one or two concessions are unlikely to appease them. For example, one of their major demands is to stop proceedings against Khaleda Zia's cantonment residence. One wonders what this has to do with the House boycott. The opposition must fight such cases in the court of law if they genuinely believe in the rule of law.
However, the leader of the House and the speaker must look at the opposition's demand on sitting arrangements more closely. They need to extend an olive branch again and open up new avenues to address this issue. Indeed, time is running out fast and some solution must be found to the satisfaction of both sides. If the opposition wants to continue this for an indefinite period to harvest political gains, ordinary voters will eventually figure out what the treasury bench's offer was, thus, negating the opposition's claims. Eventually, the incumbent will become clean in the eyes of ordinary voters.