The country’s Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament) was hamstrung by criticisms for quite some time. Many expressed view that the parliament is dysfunctional and the main opposition party in parliament, called Jatiya Party, is one-eyed or biased. Absence of proper criticism in the parliament also came to the fore. At long last, the parliament looks to have become somewhat vibrant these days as the opposition parliamentarians are strongly criticising the government by highlighting various aspects of ministers, MPs and government machineries. Political analysts, therefore, are of the view that this indicates a proper democratic practice that proves how crucial a vibrant parliament is for the state, writes SM TANJIL-UL-HAQUE.
Tension has been brewing in Bangladesh’s political scene in recent times. Although the stiffness started with the opposition BNP’s (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) serial protest rallies against, what it said, the unusual rise in the prices of fuel and other commodities since last August, it has now turned into the politics of occupying streets and has an effect on the national parliament as well. As a result of this, heated arguments in the parliament have marked an increase lately. The opposition members of parliament (MPs) are frequently and at times fiercely evaluating various aspects of the government in Sangsad.
They are also highlighting various actions and inactions of the ministers, MPs and government machineries and thereby criticising them harshly. Through this, many believe, a sort of vibrant democratic practice has returned to the parliament that went missing for a notable period. Vibrancy in the parliament is vital for a sound and lively democracy in any country. Thus, general people are wondering whether the heated debates are a good omen for democracy and whether the House can continue with the practice. The 20th session of the 11th National Parliament ended this month. Parliament Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury came up with the promulgation upon concluding the session. There were six working days in the latest session starting on October 30 and ending on November 6. Analysts are of the view that the session was one of the most fruitful in recent memory.
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They think expressing opinion and dissent in Sangsad is essential for a healthy democracy. According to the Speaker, parliament is the epicentre of democracy. She said, “Parliament enacts laws on the basis of which the executive department conducts its activities. Not only does it make laws, but also the MPs in a parliamentary democracy supervise the activities of the executive department through committee system and provide necessary advice and recommendations. The more powerful and efficient this system is, the more efficient the parliamentary system will be. Above all, the country’s democratic system will be strengthened.”
POLITICS REVOLVING AROUND PARLIAMENT
The two main political parties of the country, Awami League (AL) and BNP displayed their organisational strength on the streets very recently. Surprisingly, BNP was able to generate a massive crowd in their rallies. The issue of whether or not to go to the parliament came up on October 30, while BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said they have only one demand, which is the government’s resignation and polls under a non-partisan government. He in this regard said, “BNP MPs are ready to resign from the national parliament at any moment. They are just waiting for the party’s decision.” AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader came up with a sharp reply saying that there are only seven BNP MPs, so there will not be much problem in parliament with their resignation. However, the BNP MPs later joined the Sangsad.
Political analysts point to the fact that the country’s political activity actually revolves around the parliament and that political arguments growing centring the parliament is ultimately a good sign. It indicates a fair democratic practice in the country. Furthermore, MPs of the Sangsad’s main opposition Jatiya Party (JP) also announced on October 30 that they would not join the parliament until JP Chairman and Deputy Leader of the Opposition GM Quader is gazetted as the Opposition Leader. However, JP did join the parliament within a day of making the announcement. Later in a press release, JP informed that GM Quader ordered all his party MPs to attend the session. It’s been quite some time since the omnipresence of so many rival party leaders in the parliament has made it busy and lively happening.
INFUSING VIBRANCY THRU INTENSE DEBATES
In parliamentary politics, the national parliament is supposed to be the centre of politics. Unfortunately, there have not been many such signs seen in the country’s politics in the last 51 years. Instead, the ruling parties usually try to keep the parliament in their hands, and the opposition parties choose the path of exclusion without playing a role in the parliament. However, recently the image of the national parliament is changing and the debates are spreading heat, which is actually a gain for democracy. For example, there has been a fierce debate in the parliament between the opposition MPs and the ruling party MPs regarding the upcoming elections. Besides raising questions about the Election Commission (EC) and Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), BNP MPs claimed that the election would not be accepted without their party.
They demanded a caretaker government for fair and acceptable elections. Participating in the discussion, BNP’s Harunur Rashid said, “There is no alternative to free and fair elections in a democratic state. In the last ten years, there has been distrust in the electoral system. EC does not conduct elections, now it is conducted by local level administration and people of public administration.” BNP’s Rumin Farhana said, “If there is no fair election in the country, if people cannot apply their right to vote, if the ballot boxes are already filled, if the day’s voting is held at night, then what the EC will do?” Responding to their statements, Law Minister Anisul Haque said, “According to their demand, the Election Commission Act has been passed. Now they are demanding the caretaker government. But there will be no concessions on this question except the judgment of the Supreme Court.
The highest court of the country has declared the caretaker government illegal. However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken all necessary initiatives for free and fair elections. CEC and four commissioners have been appointed to create a level playing field.” The minister also said that two parliamentarians from the BNP party have questioned the acceptability of the previous elections. But they are the ones elected in that elections and came to this parliament and spoken regularly. There is no chance to say anywhere in the world that there will be a hundred percent fair election. But the elections of 1996, 2008, 2014 and 2018 in Bangladesh have been fair and acceptable.” He further claimed that the next election will be fair under this government.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina‘s vibrant question-and-answer session with BNP MP Rumin Farhana in the recent parliamentary session also indicated the same.
Rumin said in a supplementary question, “68 percent of people in Bangladesh are struggling to buy food, says a report from WFP. CPD also says that the cost of food is the highest in South Asia, and Bangladesh is one of the 42 countries that are at risk of famine.
Even the PM is repeatedly saying that there may be famine in the country, everyone should be careful. Along with this, inflation has increased. What is the government thinking of to control this situation?”
In response, the premier said that the government is not denying the fact that the price of goods has increased in the country in recent times amid worldwide catastrophe. “I don’t know from where, the institution you are talking about, gets these calculations, but their calculations are never accurate. In addition, some newspapers nowadays make a headline in such a way, which is misleading. Let the nation see inside, it is not right. Creating an unusual situation increases their publicity, and it’s the reality. However, we are with the people and will be with the people. Let them say what they say. I will do what I have to do.”
HEATED DEBATE OVER ELECTRICITY, ENERGY CRISIS
The ongoing precarious situation with regard to the power and energy sector was discussed several times in the national parliament at the outset of November. State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid and BNP MP Harunur Rashid’s counter-statements over energy sector spread heat in the parliament on 1st November. In the question and answer session, Harunur Rashid complained that there is looting going on in the electricity and energy sector and asked for time to discuss on the terrible mismanagement that is going on in the sector. In response, Nasrul Hamid raised allegations of corruption during the BNP era and said that the corruption report of BNP will be revealed before public before the next election.
He also demanded time from the Speaker to present the evidence of corruption in the energy sector during the BNP era that includes Niko scam, and Siddhirganj power plant project graft that he mentioned are now in the hands of the government. Meanwhile, other opposition MPs also criticised the government for the ongoing electricity situation in the country. On 2nd November, State Minister Nasrul Hamid raised the ‘Bangladesh Gas, Oil and Mineral Resources Corporation Bill-2022’ in the parliament meeting, which was passed by voice vote. Several members of BNP, JP and Gono Forum complained while participating in the discussion over the bill. BNP’s Harunur Rashid questioned the indemnity given in the power sector for quick rental and criticised the electricity exemption.
In response, Nasrul said, “People are benefiting because of this provision of exemption.” On the other hand, Gono Forum MP Mokabbir Khan said, “The energy sector is in dire straits. A vicious cycle has engulfed it.” Rowshan Ara Mannan of the JP said, “The gas crisis is taking a terrible shape. This situation would not have happened if we had arranged our own gas extraction.” BNP’s Rumin Farhana said, “No matter how much power generation capacity we have, there is load-shedding going on in every house. The government is now blaming everything on Covid, Russia-Ukraine war and the global recession. Whatever the state of the country, the government is to blame.” Now, one thing is clear from the practice of criticising the government by opposition parties and that proves the notion that there is a sound democratic practice currently persisting in the parliament.
“I don’t know from where, the institution you are talking about, gets these calculations, but their calculations are never accurate. In addition, some newspapers nowadays make a headline in such a way, which is misleading. Creating an unusual situation increases their publicity, and it’s the reality. However, we are with the people and will be with the people. Let them say what they say. I will do what I have to do.”PM Sheikh Hasina
“68 percent of people in Bangladesh are struggling to buy food, says a report from WFP. CPD also says that Bangladesh is one of the 42 countries that are at risk of famine. Even the PM is repeatedly saying that there may be famine in the country, everyone should be careful. What is the government thinking of to control this situation?”BNP MP Rumin Farhana
“We are gradually becoming dependent on importing power from India. The power sector is at risk due to the dependency on import.”BNP MP Harunur Rashid
“We’ve evidence of corruption in the energy sectorduring the BNP regime. The corruption report will be revealed before public before the next elections”State Minister Nasrul Hamid
IS THE PARLIAMENT EFFECTIVE?
There is a common perception indicating that the country’s parliament is not effective. Many are also of the opinion that ‘public interest issues are not discussed in the parliament’. With these, one common question appears in mind: How effective is the parliament? The first session of the parliament began on January 30, 2019 after the AL formed the government for the third consecutive term after a questionable victory in that year’s election, many of the opposition parties complained that the parliament has met with an untimely death under this government. After the election, the MPs of BNP initially said that they would not join the parliament, but later they took the oath before the deadline.
Parliament remained dysfunctional for some time after this, and the major opposition party in parliament, the JP was accused of being inactive and influenced by the government. But, gradually the activities of the parliament started to increase. Opposition MPs are more active and eloquent in their criticism than ever before. Now the question is whether the parliament is really effective? What does effective Parliament actually mean? How much is the role of the government in this case, and how much is the role of the opposition party? In Bangladesh, whether the parliament is effective or not is commonly defined as whether the opposition party stayed in the parliament, spoke, could speak, protested or can walk out in protest.
In the context of parliamentary democracy, these issues are surely an element of effective parliament. That element has been somewhat visible in the last few sessions, and may be in the future as well, but the essence of effective parliament is actually the key decisions taken for the state. The uproar of the opposition party in the parliament, the harsh criticism of the government is not the functioning of the parliament. Effectiveness of Parliament refers to whether important issues for Bangladesh and the people are being presented, whether the government and opposition parties are discussing it, and whether the people know about that discussions through the media. However, some important decisions have been taken in the parliament for quite some time, especially recently. Discussions, criticisms have also been made about the energy situation of great importance related to public interest.
IMPORTANT RECENT DECISIONS TAKEN IN PARLIAMENT
Recently, the activities of the parliament have increased in the country, resulting in timely and important decisions being taken frequently. This November, a new law related to rape or attempted rape was passed in the parliament. According to the law passed, the rape victim cannot be questioned about character and past sexual behaviour during cross-examination without the court’s permission. In this new law, there is also an opportunity to present various digital data as evidence in the trial. This section was added by amending the Evidence Act during the British period. Law minister Anisul Haque upheld the bill in Parliament. Meanwhile, most members of the opposition, including the BNP, praised the amendment of the law. However, Rumin Farhana expressed fear that some of its clauses may be used to attack political opponents.
Besides, another bill was introduced to provide a maximum 10- year jail term for the offense of leaking question papers in any examination conducted by the Public Service Commission (PSC). Apart from this, the provision of imprisonment of two years has been kept in the bill for appearing in the examination under false identity. However, Harunur Rashid objected to the introduction of the bill and demanded a uniform law instead of separate laws for examination-related offences. Besides, among the other important bills introduced recently, the bill for creating the list of war criminals, the amended public service bill etc. are significant.
Thus, it is understood that currently, many timely, important and critical decisions are being taken in the parliament in the backdrop of criticisms by the opposition MPs. As a result, it can be said specifically said that the national parliament of the country has been transformed into an effective phenomena of late and the practice of proper democracy is also being observed there. Now, all that needs to continue is to help grow this trend of political vibrancy.