Mad Parliament!

Shakhawat Liton

Ruling Awami League (AL) chief Sheikh Hasina looks all set to be elected the leader of the AL parliamentary party after an easy two-third majority in the January 5 parliamentary polls. MPs elected through the one-sided election will take oath any day after January 24, after the expiry of the tenure of the current parliament. So, upon her election as the leader of the majority party, she will be appointed by President Abdul Hamid as the new Prime Minister. She will swear in as the premier in two consecutive terms and for the third in her political career. She will have a new life as the PM for five more years. She will then advise the President to convene the new parliament within 30 days since the publication of results of the January 5 election in an official gazette.
The new parliament will have three types of MPs–154 elected unopposed, 146 elected in friendly contest and 50 to women reserved seats to be indirectly elected. So, it is clear that the parliament will be dominated by MPs elected either unopposed or in an indirect election or in a farcical election. Of course, this will be an abnormal parliament. The government and ruling AL may keep claiming that the new parliament is an elected one. But their claim will remain limited to some technical aspect as the January 5 election is being held only in paper.
But everybody knows that the majority of the people had nothing to say in the January 5 polls as their voting rights have been denied. Sheikh Hasina however did not like to be elected unopposed from two constituencies. Two Jatiya Party men, who were unwilling and unprepared to contest the election, are now challenging her in Gopalganj-3 and Rangpur-6. If both the Jatiya Party men could have been able to withdraw their nomination papers, Hasina would have been elected unopposed. Her government has abolished the caretaker government on grounds that the election time non-partisan caretaker government was formed with unelected people. Will Hasina’s new government be able to claim that her new government is elected by the people? The caretaker government’s functions were very limited. It did some routine work and had extended all out cooperation to the Election Commission to hold a free and fair parliamentary election in 90 days timeframe. But Hasina’s new government will be formed for five years and it will have all the powers necessary to run the country. There will be no strong opposition in the parliament to hold the government accountable. Those elected as MPs from other parties will remain loyal to the AL.
How will the new parliament and Hasina government perform after being elected in such a controversial election? The coming days look all set to be more volatile. The BNP-led opposition and other parties will continue to wage street agitation against her government. Different sections of people may continue to criticise the government for its failure to hold a credible parliamentary election. So, her new government with little legitimacy and public support will have to spend much of its strength to face the opposition. Unruly and controversial activities of many MPs and ruling AL men may give Hasina’s new government more pain. Their activities might generate more controversy and taint the image of the new government. Many wealth statements published in different newspapers have already shown how they were desperate in the last five years to make money in lawful and unlawful ways. The new parliament and the new government might make the corrupt even more corrupt.
Hasina’s new government moreover might face a diplomatic crisis as the international community has taken a stance against the one-sided January 5 election. The European Union and the US have refused to send observers for this election. Many other countries are set to follow them. They did what they had done in January 2007 as they were against the January 22 one-sided parliamentary polls which were cancelled following the declaration of the State of Emergency. The international community believes that sending observers for the January 5 elections is tantamount to making this election credible. As they took a stance against the election, they might take position against its outcome too.
A number of officials in the diplomatic arena in Dhaka told this correspondent that diplomats stationed in Dhaka have opened discussions amongst themselves to find their next course of action. They will be sending reports on the prevailing situation to their respective countries. The reports they will be sending of course will not favour Hasina’s new government. So, it will be difficult for her government to expect cooperation from the international communities and the donor agencies. If so, what will be the fate of the country’s various development projects that are funded by donor countries and some international agencies? Will Hasina’s new government lead the country towards a grave danger, making the country alienated from the international community? ┬áIs it possible for a country to survive alone in the days of globalisation?
In parliamentary democracy, the parliament forms and ends a government. What will the new parliament do if the government faces a tough time both nationally and internationally? Will the parliament help the government to overcome the crisis? Or will the parliament will behave in an abnormal way?
A Note on Mad Parliament: In the UK, the birth place of parliamentary form of government, there was a parliament over 800 years ago which was called ‘Mad Parliament’. Its exact name was ‘The Oxford Parliament’. But its functions were against the king’s absolute power. The parliament started to make laws and regulations to curtail the power of the king in different ways. In this parliament, a group of barons had forced King Henry to accept a new form of government in which power was placed in the hands of the Privy Council, a council of fifteen members who were to supervise ministerial appointments, local administration and the custody of royal castles. Parliament, meanwhile, which was to meet three times a year, would monitor the performance of this council. Such activities infuriated the King and his men. So, they called in the ‘Mad Parliament’. But in the history of the evolution of parliamentary democracy, the importance of this parliament is immense.