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Why are our PMs like dictators?
Publication Date : 09-09-2013
How power is transferred from one government to the next is an indicator of whether we are talking about a democracy or a dictatorship. While at the end of its term a democratic government hands over power to the next elected government peacefully and smoothly, no such transitional mechanism exists in a dictatorship. So transition of power in a dictatorship, unless it is along the family line as in a dynasty, is always violent and bloody.
Even if the running of a democratic government may often be bumpy and dicey, the transition of power is not, or should not be. At least, that is expected in a true democracy.
Judging by our experience of transition from one government to the next, since the middle of 1990s, what should we call our system of government? Can we, honestly, call it a democracy? If so, why is then each of these transitions has been marked by violence, political uncertainties and unwillingness of the party in government to create the condition of peaceful transfer of power, through elections?
However much our two major political parties, the ruling Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, may cry hoarse to the contrary, the front they have been presenting before us so far cannot be one of democracy. And one is not surprised why we are again facing the same old crisis of power transfer through a credible election with the participation of all parties.
To get over the present crisis eminent jurist and one of the main authors of our constitution, Dr. Kamal Hossain, recently urged the president so that the constitution might be amended to frame a poll-time government to hold next general election. However, there is a condition. It is that if the political parties are agreed, the suggested constitutional amendment would be a matter of two minutes, Dr. Kamal argued.
The first question is who will bell the cat, that is, bring the two political parties, especially the two major camps led by the ruling AL and opposition BNP, to the table for talks?
The second question is, as the clause (3) of Article 48 of the constitution provides, can the president do anything without being advised by the prime minister? So, even if the president desires to play a role, then he will have to seek advice from the prime minister, who is also the president of the ruling party.
So the prospect that the president from his exalted position might act to amend the constitution for getting over the crisis gets narrowed down by his constitutional limitations.
We are again back to square one. The solution to the ongoing standoff is again hinging crucially on the goodwill of one of the parties responsible for the crisis!
Apart from that, as the presidents are elected in parliament with the ruling party’s backing in the prevailing system, by implication, they are expected to remain loyal to that party. So far, they mostly lived up to such expectations.
Small wonder we have no instance of a president who could rise to the occasion in the crucial hours of national need during all these years.
We know the fate of Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury, as president of the republic during BNP-led government (2001-2006). He had to leave office of the president in utter disgrace as he tried to act as someone over and above the party.
Even Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, who was made president by Awami League government (1996-2001), fell from grace since he proved to be of no help when the AL was defeated in 2001′s election. Ironically though, Awami League had initially taken credit for being non-partisan in its choice a president who was not a member of the party. But that show of generosity evaporated when the moment of truth arrived.
But more important than whether or not the presidents wills to play a role in the crisis, is if both the major parties are willing to bury the hatchet. So far as our experience goes, they have never, of themselves, come forward to resolve the crisis.
The fundamental question, then, is why these two political parties must be forever at daggers drawn, behave in the most irrational manner holding the entire nation and its people hostage, while third parties at home and abroad will have to scratch their heads over how to bring them together to save democracy.
It is time we thought seriously about the issue and get to the root of the problem.
Excessive power in the hands of the prime ministers has turned them into dictators. This element of dictatorship in our prime ministers has been coming in way of smooth transition from one elected government to the next. Constitutional experts need to look into the causes of our PMs’ becoming dictatorial and come up with suggestions to remove those. One obvious factor is the Article 70 of the constitution that has been stifling intra-party democracy in the name of stopping floor-crossing. President’s role as a titular head of the republic is another.
Lawmakers should be able to express their dissenting voice within their party and the presidents should be able to exercise some semblance of power.
The writer is Editor, Science & Life, The Daily Star.