“Floor crossing under the Bangladesh Constitution protects against political instability and strengthens Democracy”-illustrate
In Bangladesh, according to the constitution Members of Parliament has no power to vote against his or her own party. Which means MPs can’t go against their party decision even if they intend to do so. Although it is meant to ensure loyalty to the party under which banner they elected for, it has resulted in party autocracy. Because if MPs vote against the will of his party, he or she will be looses seat their seat on the parliament. “It is, nonetheless, true in case of our two major political parties as they have little democratic practice within the parties themselves” as stated by Chowdhury. On earlier occasions, a number of MPs lost their membership as they cast their vote against party decision while voting took place within parliament. In 1972 Article 70 was included in the Constitution of Bangladesh to prevent floor crossing in parliament. The article thought by brains of the society to hinder true spirit of a functional parliament and democracy, to some extent raise question towards human rights.
The purpose of the Article 70 is to prevent Floor Crossing. In politics, the term ‘crossing the floor’ can mean either to vote against party lines, especially where this is considered unusual or controversial, or to describe a member who leaves their party entirely and joins the opposite side of the House, such as leaving an opposition party to support the government (or vice versa), or even leaving one opposition party to join another. In Canada, for example, the term ‘crossing the floor’ is used exclusively to refer to switching parties, which occurs occasionally at both the federal and provincial levels.
For many reasons, floor crossing is regarded as being controversial. From the voter’s perspective, the political party is a team of candidates at election time. When voters chose candidates for public office, they delegate decision-making on public policy to political parties and to party-identified representatives. Repeated elections give voters the opportunity to hold parties responsible and accountable for policy decisions and outcomes. Thus, it is argued, that it would seem reasonable to expect parliamentarians to stick to the party labels under which they won the election.
The core value of democracy is that it establishes an accountability relationship between the electorate and their representatives through parliament. But the Article 70 regarding Floor crossing has raised the question about establishment of true democracy through parliament.
2. Article 70 under the Constitution of Bangladesh
Article 70 of the Bangladesh Constitution says: “A person elected as a Member of Parliament at an election at which he was nominated as a candidate by a political party shall vacate his seat if he resigns from that party or votes in Parliament against the party.” The article is thought by many to impede the true spirit of democracy and a functional parliament. Some may argue that we need such a provision in order to prevent MPs from switching sides too frequently and effectively causing the government to fall. This can cause instability in our country.
Article 70 therefore essentially guts the principal reason for having a Parliament in the first place. “Now it could be argued that allowing a politician to vote his or her conscience is a laughable proposition in Bangladesh, and indeed this was the reason Article 70 was enacted in the first place. The idea was to create a system that would prevent parliamentarians from selling their votes” quoted by Sobhan. To explain his statement Sobhan argued
“But even if parliamentarians do sell their votes, such a situation more closely resembles democracy than effectively not permitting them to vote at all. At least then they would be representing someone. Under the rules now in place a parliamentarian can represent no one other than his or her party leadership.”
In any case, if we cannot trust our lawmakers not to sell their votes, then why continue with the charade of parliamentary democracy? Article 70 ensures that our political system is a parliamentary democracy in name only. “No politician in Bangladesh would dare brook his or her party’s leadership, even if it were permitted. No doubt. But the point is that right now they can’t, even if they want to.”
Under the 1972 Constitution there were mainly two conditions against floor crossing
a) If a member resigns from his party.
b) If he votes against his party during voting time.
But the 4th Amendment added two more conditions to it to strengthen the law against floor crossing. They are:
a) If a member is present in the parliament but still doesn’t take part in voting.
b) If a member doesn’t attend the parliament at all against the will or direction of his party.
Two more conditions were added in the 12th Amendment. They are:
a) None can form a group within one political party.
b) If one elected member joins any other political party then it is the violation of Article 70.
These Amendments were made to reserve authority of parliament to the executive body. Thus, we draw conclusion by saying that Amendments can apply dictatorship. Here, there will be no chance of democracy. Whatever will be decided by the Executive will be final. The other members among the party can’t protest. As the Executive in our country is the Prime Minister he or she doesn’t need to be accountable to the legislature he or she can do anything on his or her will power. From 1991 to till date there were four elections and right now AL is in power with more than Two-third seats of the parliament. But still there is no sign or symptom to change this Article 70 or to remove it. Maybe it is because they want to perform dictatorship or they are afraid of the past history of the then East Pakistan (the chaos and defection or floor crossing of 1954-1958).
3. Impact of Floor Crossing/ Article 70 under Constitution of Bangladesh
3.1. Conflict among the Members of Parliament
Article 70 doesn’t allow the Members of Parliament to vote against party’s undemocratic decisions. In other words it doesn’t allow the MPs to protest or having different opinions regarding party’s decision. As a result, most members of parliament don’t speak freely or share their opinion in party meetings or seminar. This is indicating the main purpose of the democracy is not fulfilled.
3.2. Lack of responsibility
A parliamentary government should take or pass all the members vote or opinion before taking any decision or to avoid defeat on the floor. It can be unquestionably said that there is lack of responsibility and immense opportunity of dictatorship of the government in the parliament of Bangladesh. Article 70 is allowing the government not to be responsible and accountable to the parliament and it is also providing the government enough room to practice dictatorship.
3.3. Hamper the practice of rule of law
Rule of law should create a situation where there will be chance of discussion over a bill. The members have the rights to argue on the proposed bill if necessary. But, the Article 70 prohibits the members of the ruling party to do this practice. So, as a result no matter how unrealistic or undemocratic the bill is it is approved and passed very easily. So, basically the Article 70 is making the members a puppet.
3.4. Contradiction in the system or constitution
We can see that Article 70 is blocking the system of being responsible to the legislature, so in Bangladesh we are actually not practicing the parliamentary government system. So we are in a position which contradicts with the actual Parliamentary government spirit.
4. Floor crossing law in other countries
According to the constitution of India, a member of either House of Union Parliament or of the Legislative Assembly of a state belonging to any political party shall be disqualified from being a member of the House (a) if he has voluntarily given up his membership of such political party; or (b) if he votes or abstains from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs without obtaining the prior permission of such political party and such voting or abstention has not been condoned by such political party within fifteen days from the date of such voting or abstention.
According to the constitution of Pakistan, a member of a House or of the Provincial Assembly shall lose his seat if he defects from a political party which nominated him or votes contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, or abstains from voting in the House against party policy in relation to a Bill. He however gets an opportunity to appeal and the party chief’s decision is final.
Even though the constitutions in the above-mentioned neighboring countries contain provisions for vacation of parliament seat by a lawmaker on ground of his defection, yet some constitutional experts and members of civil society argue that Article 70 of our constitution “contradicts the fundamental rights as enunciated in Part 111 of the constitution, thereby curbing the rights of the MPs also, as far as freedom of thought and expression is concerned.”
5. Floor Crossing Law in Bangladesh
As we can see, Article 70 creates a lot of problems and obstacles to achieve democracy and Parliamentary government system. There were 14 Amendments of our constitution. But none of the government or political parties took the initiative to change or remove this law.
Often members of parliament or politicians face dilemma in making their position in party’s certain decision. But the article 70 creates a confusion state in MPs mind. So, most of the time MPs remain silent.
Another reason can be the politicians are happy with this law. Because, under this law they can perform authoritarian system which can never be challenged. The Executive is not responsible to the legislator or parliament under this Article 70, so if a party wants to pass an undemocratic law he has the power to do it. There is no chance of the executive getting defeated on the floor.
In Bangladesh, became corrupted and self-interest, greed and power grabber has been a long tradition. The prevention of floor crossing is needed for the stability of the government. Otherwise there will be no such thing called Democracy in the countries like Bangladesh. Slight change in Article 70 may do a lot. Because article 70 is related to budget or bill and this bill is greatly impact the stability of government. Changing this law does not make the parliament lively and meaningful, but still it will help us to have a stable government system as well as applying rule of law and democracy which is very important in order to achieve a responsible government. By changing this law the government will not fall and still there will be some implication of rule of law.
We need political parties and minister who are responsible, visionary and honest in their respective fields. Only then we can achieve the truest meaning of democracy. If we can assure this then we do not need any article 70 or floor crossing law in our constitution.
1. Chowdhury, O. M. A. ‘British parliament and anti-floor-crossing provision in Bangladesh’ available at http://www.thedailystar.net/law/2005/11/03/opinion1.htm accessed on 17th July 2012
2. “Crossing the Floor” available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_floor accessed on 17th July 2012
3. Mershon, C & Heller, W. (1882 – 1996) “Party Switching and Political Careers in the Spanish Congress of Deputies”
4. Sobhan, Z. “Article 70 guts Parliament” available at http://www.sunday-guardian.com/analysis/article-70-guts-parliament accessed on 17th July 2012
5. Halim, “Constitution, Constitutional Law And Politics: Bangladesh Perspective” pp.178-179
6. Mondal, M. A. L.(2005) “Floor crossing in the House” available at http://www.thedailystar.net/2005/06/13/d50613020430.htm accessed on 17th July, 2012]
7. “Floor Crossing Law under Bangladesh Constitution” available at http://www.lawyersnjurists.com/resource/articles-and-assignment/floor-crossing-law-under-bangladesh-constitution/ accessed on 17th July 2012