Parliament boycott also repeats | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, October 25, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, October 25, 2009

Parliament boycott also repeats

THE famous French novelist Victor Hugo said that history repeats itself, first time as tragedy, then as farce. Only it's hard to tell which phase constitutes the tragedy and which the farce.
Victor Hugo died in 1885. If he were alive today and could know about the boycotting culture in Bangladesh's Parliament, he would have surely left behind another pithy saying -- parliament boycott also repeats itself in Bangladesh and always constitutes farce.
In an unfortunate development, the parliamentary system of democracy in Bangladesh continues to fail to live up to its potential, with MPs from both the major political parties -- AL and BNP -- boycotting parliament sessions by rotation on various pleas since the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991.
The opposition parties in the Parliament had boycotted nearly half of the total sittings in the last three Parliaments without any reason convincing enough to the nation. It would not be unjustified if one says that both AL and BNP had cheated the nation, claiming that they had ruled the country under parliamentary system of democracy.
Being in the opposition bench, the AL had boycotted 135 sittings out of total 400 sittings in the fifth Parliament, spreading from 1991 to 1996, over petty political rows.
As a tit for tat, the BNP, which was in opposition bench in the seventh Parliament from 1996 to 2001, had stayed away from the Parliament for 163 out of total 382 sittings of the House over trifling issues.
The AL responded to its landslide defeat in the 2001 election by announcing a boycott of Parliament, and Sheikh Hasina along with her 55 MPs remained absent for 77 sitting days in a row. AL had stayed away from Parliament for 223 out of 373 sittings in the eighth Parliament.
In the inaugural session of the ninth Parliament, the opposition MPs joined in on only 21 out of 39 working days while the opposition leader Khaleda Zia attended only three sittings. The BNP-led alliance MPs have been on boycott since January 28 over a seating arrangement row in the House, and have continued doing so even during the ongoing third session.
Both AL and BNP promised in their election manifestos that they would never boycott parliament, whether they sat in the treasury or the opposition benches. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on more than one occasion since her party's resounding victory in December 29 polls, said that her government would not only listen to the views of the opposition but would also work with the opposition to lead the country to the way of prosperity.
The people became enthusiastic by this change shown by the leaders of the House and opposition regarding their parliamentary performances. Now the responsibility lies squarely with both the leaders to make the Parliament a platform where issues of vital national importance will be discussed and decided upon.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), that keeps a tab on the working of parliaments in emerging democracies, has come up with a set of recommendations, including amendments of the constitution, to re-fix the maximum duration of absence from the house from 90 consecutive days to 30 days and for cancellation of membership of Parliament in order to bring an end to the pervasive culture of boycotting the parliament sessions, which deserves serious consideration.
The quality of democracy prevailing in a country is ultimately abridged in the performance of its parliament, and sophisticated parliamentary practice develops an accommodative attitude and respect for the opponents' viewpoints by the treasury bench, as the opposition is a crucial component of the parliament.
Though Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy, the history of our national Parliament had sadly been a story of dashed hopes and aspirations in all these years after democracy was restored in 1991.
The AL and BNP, which have been ruling the country by rotation since 1991, have been entrapped in a vicious circle of parliament boycotting. When one party sits on the treasury bench, it blames the other for boycotting the parliament.
The same party, when it sits on the opposition bench, blames the treasury bench for compelling them to boycott parliament. In such a political game played by the AL and BNP over the years the nation remains the only loser. The people really want an end to this game.
All these bring forth a pertinent question: How long will the nation have to bear a dysfunctional parliament without the opposition, and pay remunerations, perks and other facilities to those MPs who boycott the Parliament for months?
Parliament, the heart of democracy, must function properly to make laws that reflect changes in situations and time to materialise the democratic dreams of the people.
The nation's aspiration for the efficacy of Parliament will remain a mirage unless both the ruling and the opposition leaders have national interest on top of their political agendas, ignoring their narrow, partisan and personal interests.

A. N. M. Nurul Haque is a columnist of The Daily Star.
E-mail-anmnhaque@hotmail.com

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