Let Sangsad rule
The parliament has largely lost its power and pre-eminence due to some changes brought to the constitution by the 4th, 5th, 12th and 13th amendments.
Although the original constitution of 1972 ensured the parliament's supremacy over the executive and judicial branches of the state, the amendments brought by both military rulers and elected governments, not only eroded parliament's power, it made the House subservient to the chief executive in some cases.
The House was originally structured to serve as the core of the parliamentary system of government. And accordingly, it was allowed sweeping authority to effectively hold the executive branch accountable.
Some reasonable restrictions were however imposed on members of the parliament, to prevent floor crossing, for the stability of the government.
The legislature was also empowered to remove constitutional officers such as the judges of Supreme Court, the chief election commissioner, election commissioners, the chairman and members of the Public Service Commission, and the comptroller and auditor general -- on grounds of misconduct and incapacity.
The country was supposed to always have a functioning elected parliament, according to the original constitution.
But over the years, many of the powers of the parliament were curbed through the amendments.
The process of undermining the parliament's supremacy began with the 4th amendment brought by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led government in 1975.
The amendment imposed a one party rule on the country under Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL), and switched the system of governance to presidential form, discarding the parliamentary system. Although the parliament remained in place, its legislative authority became a captive of the president's veto power.
Bangabandhu was assassinated in a bloody coup on August 15, 1975 and his government was overthrown, beginning the first martial law regime in the country.
Since then till 1990, the country was governed by military rulers either directly or indirectly under cover of civilian rules. The military rulers opted for the presidential form of government as well.
It must be mentioned here that Ziaur Rahman restored multi-party politics and allowed publication of multiple and private newspapers, which under BAKSAL were government owned and restricted to only four.
Although democracy and the parliamentary system were restored in 1991 through the 12th amendment, the House however did not get back its original power and status.
The 4th amendment took away the parliament's power to remove constitutional officers, and bestowed the authority on the president instead.
The first military regime changed that through a martial law proclamation, and introduced a new procedure for removal of such officers by the Supreme Judicial Council, a system that exists in Pakistan.
The Supreme Court recently declared illegal and void the constitution's 5th amendment that ratified all actions of the first military regime between August 15, 1975 and April 9, 1979.
The judgment however condoned the introduction of the Supreme Judicial Council, to prevent revival of the relevant provision of the 4th amendment.
In defence of its move, the apex court said the Supreme Judicial Council is a more transparent procedure for removal of constitutional officers, which safeguards the independence of judiciary.
The 4th amendment tightened the restrictions on MPs making them unable to play due role in the parliament freely.
It also instructed for only two parliamentary sessions in a year, in contrast to the original constitution's direction allowing only a maximum of 60 days' gap between the end of a session and the beginning of the next one.
The subsequent military rulers did not bring any change to these 4th amendment clauses.
The 12th amendment in 1991 brought back the original provision of the constitution regarding the matter, but at the same time it increased the restrictions on MPs some more.
"[Original] Article 70 puts a reasonable restriction on the function of a member of parliament, but the amended article 70 makes him a prisoner of his party," the Supreme Court observed in a verdict on April 27, 2006.
Due to the strict restrictions on MPs, the parliament's ability to ensure accountability and transparency of the executive branch has been reduced, although the cabinet is constitutionally collectively responsible to the House.
Lawmakers of the treasury bench cannot cast votes against any government decision, and no lawmaker can abstain from voting unless his or her party decides to do so, nor can he or she cast votes when the party decides to abstain from voting.
The provision gave rise to an all-powerful prime minister in the parliamentary form of government, who, according to critics, turned into a "parliamentary dictator".
The premier, usually the chief of a ruling party, simultaneously holds the office of the leader of the House.
Being the leader of the House, the premier picks MPs of his or her choice to lead the parliamentary standing committees which are assigned to ensure the executive branch's accountability to the parliament.
The prime minister's absolute control over the treasury bench, makes it impossible to bring a no-confidence motion in the House against the cabinet.
The 4th amendment, on the other hand, had made the then president all powerful, empowering him or her with the authority to veto any bill passed by the House.
The Appellate Division of Supreme Court in its recent judgment, nullifying the 5th amendment, observed that the 4th amendment had reduced the parliament's power.
Although the first martial law regime dismantled many provisions of the 4th amendment, it kept the president's sweeping power intact. In some cases the 5th amendment increased the already too powerful president's authority.
The Supreme Court observed that the amendment made the parliament subservient to the president.
It said under the 5th amendment if the parliament failed to make grants or to pass an annual budget, or refused or reduced demands for grants, the president could dissolve the parliament at his or her pleasure.
Thus the president and chief martial law administrator of the first martial law regime, Gen Ziaur Rahman, became an all-powerful chief executive without any check either from the parliament or any other state apparatus, the apex court observed.
Following Zia's assassination, Gen Ershad grabbed the state power on March 24, 1982 by overthrowing the then elected president Justice Sattar.
He put the country under martial law again for more than four years, and declared himself the president, enjoying similar sweeping authority during his entire tenure till December 6, 1990.
Although the 12th amendment in 1991 restored the parliamentary system of governance replacing the presidential form, it kept intact the 5th amendment ratified martial law regulation that allowed the president to promulgate ordinances when the parliament stood dissolved.
And the retention of that 5th amendment provision kept the parliament's exclusive legislative power still a distant dream.
The original constitution did not allow the president such a sweeping legislative authority, except for promulgation of ordinances on urgent financial matters, while parliament would stand dissolved. It also allowed the president to promulgate ordinances on any urgent matter when a functioning parliament would not be in session.
The president's sweeping legislative power, allowed by the 5th amendment, was declared illegal and void by the apex court's recent judgment.
Finally, the 13th amendment in 1996 introduced the caretaker government system, against a backdrop of agitation by Awami League and an electoral stalemate between AL and BNP, forcing the parliament's existence to cease for at least three months prior to a parliamentary election.
During the period the state does not function as a republic, as an unelected government runs the country without any parliamentary scrutiny.
The original constitution had provisions for holding a parliamentary election within 90 days prior to normal dissolution of a parliament. But the 13th amendment introduced the provision that the caretaker government would assist the Election Commission in holding parliamentary polls within 90 days following a parliament's dissolution.
It is now expected that the parliamentary special committee for constitutional amendment will consider necessary changes in the country's supreme charter, so the House is able to gradually regain its original power and pre-eminence.