Let there be rule of law | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 06, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 06, 2009

Let there be rule of law

WE have a lot of democracy loving people these days waxing eloquent on how Hasina and the government could have earned political mileage if they had been more accommodative towards the opposition in the parliament. The speakers in a talk show on a TV channel sounded so committed to democracy and constitutional rule. The issues discussed left me with the impression that perhaps Hasina and her government have fallen short of the democratic behaviour expected of them.
First, the slot of deputy speaker ought to have gone to the opposition. Second, the seating arrangement for the opposition should not have been altered by the speaker. Third, the parliament should not ratify all 122 ordinances promulgated by the president during the caretaker government.
If this is the impression I got as an educated man, imagine the impact on the millions of illiterate people who have no knowledge of the constitution and the rules of business in the parliament, and of how wrong and partisan Jamiruddin Sircar had been in allocating seats to the lawmakers of his party.
It is wonderful to hear votaries of democracy, constitutional rule and human rights speak on TV talk shows and put across their illuminating views to the people. But I wonder why some of them sound so partisan. Why is it that the government has to prove its democratic credentials by walking the extra mile to give space to the opposition?
One great legal mind of our country suggested towards the fag end of the caretaker government's tenure that the panacea for all our political ills lay in Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia having a dialogue, and that the popularity of this government would have gone sky high if the deputy speaker had been elected from the opposition.
Why this weird suggestion? Was it a commitment made in the election manifesto of the AL? Is it a practice in democracies the world over that the deputy speaker must be from the opposition? Does our constitution say that the deputy speaker has to be from the opposition? Would it serve the cause of democracy if a deputy speaker elected from the opposition behaved in the same blatantly partisan way as Jamiruddin Sircar had as a speaker?
One former bureaucrat came down on Sheikh Hasina for back-tracking on her statement on the eve of the election that she would consider having the deputy speaker from the opposition. He also said that he would have given all the seats to the opposition as per their demand. Such magnanimity is indeed praiseworthy. But why was not such a suggestion made when BNP was in power?
In the 8th parliament AL, which had 62 seats, was given only 8 seats in the front row. On the basis of proportional representation in the present parliament, BNP, having 28 odd seats, should not get more than 4 seats in the front row. But Sircar, in his capacity as the departing speaker, allotted all 10 seats in the front row to opposition lawmakers.
Why don't our democracy loving friends condemn Sircar for his partisan action and for creating this unnecessary fracas over seat allocation? Why could they not say that boycotting parliament sessions over the issue of seat allocation is not in keeping with democracy and democratic culture?
It was suggested that the parliament should not only refrain from ratifying ordinances which were promulgated by the president in violation of the constitution but also take action against those who violated the constitution and prolonged unconstitutional rule by the caretaker government.
If at all the constitution had been violated during the rule of the caretaker government, is it the first instance of such violation? Was not constitution violated when a legitimate government was pulled down in a bloody coup in 1975? Was not the constitution violated when a serving army chief contested election for the presidency and retired after winning it? Was not constitution violated when an army chief took over power in a bloodless military coup in 1982? Would you call it constitutional rule when grenades were hurled at an AL rally, and the government of the day did everything possible to ensure that those who committed this horrendous crime were not brought to justice?
I can go on citing more instances of constitution violation. Has anyone been even censured for violation of constitution, let alone tried and awarded penalty? The caretaker government may have done many a thing wrong, but to say that the constitution was violated during its 2 year rule is a travesty of truth. After all, this is the government which took the bold action to make the judiciary independent.
True, Hasina has not kept her word on the issue of election of deputy speaker. But this does not mean that her commitment to democracy and good governance has run out of steam in any way. Her post-election conduct as a political leader has shown enough maturity and political tolerance to vouch for her sincerity towards ushering in democracy.
On the other hand, democracy is being undermined by the continuous boycott of the parliament session the opposition on the flimsy ground of seat allocation.
If the government has to prove its democratic credentials, the best way to do so is to enforce the rule of law because, where there is rule of law, there will be democracy. And where there is peace and progress, there is truth and justice. It is only where there is no rule of law that truth and justice take a back seat and crime and corruption begin to breed.

Brig Gen Shamsuddin Ahmed (Retd) is a former military adviser to the president.

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