Legislation alone not enough
Mere legislation will not be enough to prevent extra-constitutional takeover; political parties must shun confrontational politics and strengthen democratic practices, politicians and legal experts told a roundtable yesterday.
They also called for measures to shore up democratic institutions and make parliament effective.
Daily Prothom Alo organised the discussion titled “Cancellation of the fifth and seventh amendments: politics of tomorrow” at its office in the capital.
The speakers welcomed the Supreme Court verdicts declaring illegal the two amendments, and said the landmark judgments would have profound impact on the country's politics.
The apex court in its verdict scrapping the fifth amendment observed that parliament can make laws to stop extra-constitutional takeover in future.
Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman, former army chief and BNP standing committee member, said martial law never comes in force through constitutional means, and that they know no court verdicts. So, an amendment to the constitution might not be enough to prevent military rule.
Major General (retd) Amin Ahmed Chowdhury said only an effective and functioning democracy, not laws, can stop military rule.
Jatiya Party lawmaker Anisul Islam Mahmud said one cannot say for sure that martial law will not be proclaimed again just because there are these verdicts now.
However, he added, the verdicts have indeed made a strong case against military rule.
AL lawmaker Suranjit Sengupta, co-chair of the special parliamentary committee formed for constitutional amendments, said since there is no alternative to democracy to establish peace and prosperity, it must be ensured that no-one gets the opportunity to usurp state power.
In his remarks, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed described how the basic structure of the constitution was destroyed through amendments brought to ratify the martial law proclamations.
At the beginning of the discussion, Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman explained the rationale for organising the roundtable.
He said issues like a return to the original constitution and laws to block military takeover have come to the fore following the cancellation of the fifth and seventh amendments.
Suranjit Sengupta urged the main opposition BNP to join the special committee so that a consensus decision comes out. “Whatever we do, we will do it unanimously.”
Referring to the verdicts, he said it was the first time the High Court has taken a courageous stance in favour of people; justices sided with the military during takeovers in the past.
The verdicts reflect the changing global politics, he noted.
Anisul Islam Mahmud, also a member of the special committee, said the political parties must find a credible system to govern the country, and people must stay alert so that martial laws do not return.
He said the political parties have to change their mindset. They must practice tolerance and make parliament effective to institutionalise democracy.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said the verdicts have left some changes made by the martial law proclamations still untouched. This double policy will create problems.
He added that the constitution has to be amended in line with the verdicts on the fifth and seventh amendments.
Mahbub, also a member of BNP chairperson's advisory council, said an expert committee should be formed to review and recommend amendments to the charter without causing controversy.
Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman stressed the need for greater democratic practices within the political parties. He also observed that the prime minister's power should be curtailed in the interests of democracy.
Civil society personality Prof Muzaffer Ahmad said the politics of grabbing everything--land, river, and duty-free cars--has to be changed.
He said the issue of decentralisation of power should not be glossed over.
Amin Ahmed Chowdhury said religion and religion-based parties should not be a factor in the governance of the state.
Noted jurist Shahdeen Malik however said he fears religion-based politics might still be allowed and Islam might remain the state religion--all to win votes in the next election.
And if it really turns out to be the case, it will make things chaotic for the new generation, he added.