Syed Sarfaraj Hamid
Department of Law
Northern University of Bangladesh
Md. Shakibul Alam
ID # LLB 040300300
Department of Law
Northern University of Bangladesh
Date of Submission: 24th December, 2009
I am grateful to Almighty, who has kind to complete this research successfully.
I would like to acknowledge with gratitude my indebtedness and deeply grateful to Assistant Professor Syed Safaraj Hamid Honorable Coordinator, Dept of Law, for permitting me to undertake this research. I am grateful to him for his most constructive suggestion and informative guidance through class lecture.
I express my grated to Assistant Professor Syed Safaraj Hamid the research supervisor, for his guidance, advice, valuable suggestion and helping me in term of methodology, procedures of this research.
I would grateful to my respected teacher S.M. .Masum Billah Asst. Professor department of law for his help, assistance and valuable advice.
I would also like to thank the librarians Northern University, Bangladesh for their curtsey and partial during my quest to find materials used in the research.
A democracy operates on the basis that there is room for choice all the way up to the selection of the government. This implies that the legislature, which makes the laws for the country, must itself provide an opportunity for various views to be heard throughout the term. These views should encompass not only those on the government benches (some of whom may want to suggest variations in procedure to those envisaged by the Ministers in the Cabinet), but also those who are opposed to the policies underlying the ways of operation. In other words, lawfully elected representatives of the people must be able to present and discuss alternative policy options even if they are not part of the government and do not have an immediate way of making their plans succeed. Such a political grouping within a legislature is called the opposition and commonly refers to all those parties that do not constitute the government. The leader of the largest party in parliament becomes the Leader of the Opposition. That such opposition can be provided constructively without transgressing the constitution or being disloyal to the nation has been accepted by democracies for several centuries. In the United Kingdom, the term ‘His Majesty’s opposition’ was first used by the reformist MP, John Cam Hobhouse, in the early 19th Century and the use of the related term ‘the loyal opposition’, is now commonplace in most Commonwealth legislatures. Far from disloyalty, voters now expect that their representative will play an active role in parliament whether as a government or as an opposition MP. The acceptance by society of a valid role for the opposition is in itself an important underpinning for the work of the legislature. It is equally important that the government accepts a role for the opposition, however small it may be in relation to the government, and that the media give space to the views of the opposition in their reports of the affairs of parliament. It is worthwhile to note that especially in legislatures where representatives are elected on a first-past-the-post system, a numerically small opposition may well represent a very large proportion of voters. Whether this is the case or not, the opposition clearly has a very important role to play in a democratically elected legislature.
Holding the Executive to Account
2.1 Executive Committee—
(1) The Institute shall have an Executive Committee comprising of the following members:
(a) The Chairman of the Governing Board who shall also be its Chairman;
(b) The Minister-in-Charge of the Ministry or Division of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs;
(c) Two members of Parliament, to be nominated by the Leader of the House, of whom one shall be of treasury bench and the other from the opposition;
(d) The Secretary of the Parliament Secretariat;
(e) The Secretary of the Ministry or Division of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs;
(f) The Rector who shall also be its Secretary;
(2) The Executive Committee—
(a) Shall provide required assistance to the Governing Board for smooth performance of its functions;
(b) Shall remain accountable for implementation of all decisions of the Governing Board;
(c) Shall exercise all powers and discharge all duties entrusted on it by the Governing Board.
(3) The Executive Committee shall determine the procedure of its meeting.
2.2 Effective ways Parliament holds the Government to account:
- Forcing government ministers to justify their policies, explain why they were developed and the future effects of them
- Debates provide an open floor for MPs to speak and question members of the Government
- The Opposition Party (and everyone else in Parliament) have the duty to criticize and
- PMQs (Prime Minister Questions) is where the Prime Minister is forced to stand up in the Commons and answer questions
- Written letters – MPs can write to Government ministers asking them to justify policies and elaborate and so forth
- Standing Committees are temporary committees set up. They are made up of people from all parties in the Commons, and their job is to scrutinize bills in great depth. This helps the Government improve on them
- Select Committees are slightly more permanent whereby MPs are selected to question cross-examine ministers, civil servants etc.
2.3 Accountability of the Government
The Constitution states that the Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to Parliament. The Rules of Procedure of Parliament have prescribed a number of devices to make the Government answerable and accountable to Parliament. These include:
� Half-an-hour Discussion
� Call Attention
� Discussion for short duration
� Motion (General)
� Adjournment Motion
� No-confidence Motion
Among these devices, questions and call attention notices feature in almost all sittings. In fact, the first hour of every sitting, unless otherwise directed by the Speaker, is earmarked for Members to ask questions on matters of public importance. Ministers answer all questions in writing. However, oral answers are also given to 'starred' questions i.e. questions marked with asterisks by Members. Once a starred question has been answered, Members can ask supplementary questions. It is followed by call attention notices. Questions and call attention notices are the most common devices used to raise discussions on the floor of the House.
2.4 Parliament, Accountability and Corruption
- Whatever the causes and consequences of corruption, evidence from around the world shows that it is associated with weak systems of public accountability.
- Earlier, we noted that parliament that should carry out its legislative, oversight and representative functions so as to strengthen the good governance values of accountability, transparency and participation. In a healthy ecology of
- On the third day of the Seminar, we will focus on one of the most important tools at parliament’s disposal to strengthen accountability, namely the budget process. We will see then that accountability is not a simple oversight activity that involves only "checking the books" and "catching the crooks." It requires effective parliamentary participation in all stages of the budget process, from the setting of budget priorities, through debate of the budget document itself to the monitoring of budget implementation and the scrutiny of public accounts.
- On the fourth day of the seminar, we turn our attention to the key question of how parliament can go about strengthening itself as an instrument of public accountability. In seeking answers, two very different kinds of obstacles present themselves: lack of commitment and weak capacity.
Lack of Commitment-The issue here is whether parliamentarians are so compromised by the political process that they lack credibility in tackling corruption. What sorts of obstacles are put in the way of parliamentary effectiveness by party politics? Can parliament and parliamentarians rise above the powerful temptation to use corruption as a convenient weapon in the political wars.
Weak Capacity – Assuming that commitment can be generated, there still remain serious capacity obstacles standing in the way of parliament being an effective instrument of accountability. Many parliaments in the world lack the resources (e.g. competent research services) necessary to effectively scrutinize government. In these circumstances, parliamentarians should think first of the synergy of institutions" by building working relations with specialized watchdog bodies, and with civil society and business organizations. Where resources are scarce, these may account for most of the potential gain in parliamentary effectiveness.
The Opposition as the Alternative Government
3.1 What is the Opposition
The opposition is the main non-government party in the House of Parliament. The opposition is the second biggest party or coalition of parties voted into the House of Parliament.
3.2 What is the role of the opposition
The opposition is also called the alternative government, as they must be ready to form government if they are voted in as a government following an election.
3.3 What is the role of the Leader of the Opposition
The Leader of the Opposition leads the opposition party or coalition of parties. Duties of the Leader of the Opposition include:
- chairing weekly party meetings
- leading the development of party policy
- selecting opposition members and senators to be shadow ministers
- leading the team of shadow ministers which is called the shadow cabinet
- acting as the chief spokesperson for the party inside and outside Parliament
- presenting alternate policies to the government and the Bangladeshi people
- Leading the party in an election.
3.4 How can the Leader of the Opposition become the Prime Minister
As a general rule, when government is formed by the coalition of the Bangladesh Nationality Party (BNP) and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami , the Gononforum and the Democratic Liberal Party (DLP) is the opposition and vice versa.
3.5 Where does the opposition meet
The opposition meets at Parliament House in the opposition party room. This is where opposition members and parliament member can discuss important party matters.
3.6 The Functions of the Opposition
A Member of Parliament plays several roles in the legislature, sometimes summarized as a legislator enacting laws, a representative of his or her constituents, a scrutinizer of the work of the executive, and a supporter or critic of proposals laid before the House. Members of the opposition must accept that opportunities for their work as initiators of legislation will be limited but their role as representatives is undiminished and greater burdens devolve on opposition Members than on government backbenchers in regard to scrutiny and oversight. At the same time, the opposition has a duty to themselves and to their voters to play the role of an alternative government and indeed, the role of a government in waiting. In the more mature democracies, this is well recognized and the leader of the largest opposition party is often given access to sensitive information on the basis that he or she, as the Prime Minister in waiting, has to be ready to perform the role of running the country at comparatively short notice. The opposition has the responsibility to give attention to the continuous development of its policies and to keep these in view before parliament and the people. The major challenge for the opposition is its need to be seen as credible in this role. In order to do that it must be as responsible, respected and united as a political party and it must create policies that are relevant to the day-to-day lives of people. Parliament provides a good forum for an effective opposition and must be used as such. The government also has its responsibilities to the opposition. In the first instance, sufficient resources should be provided for carrying out the work of a ‘loyal opposition’. There must be an adequate level of access to sources of information including those available to Ministers and their civil servants and for fair advice from parliamentary officials including parliamentary counsel or draftsmen where such persons are available. There must be some funding for publicity and for use of the media. Finally there must be recognition of the special place of the Leader of the Opposition and front-bench opposition spokespersons. It is instructive to note that, while the role of the opposition has been recognized for centuries, the payment of a salary to the Leader of the Opposition has been a practice for only a few decades even in the older parliaments.
The Legislative Function
4.1 Overview Discussion
Parliaments perform certain core functions that define their role in a working democracy, irrespective of the type of democratic system by which they were elected and in which they operate. Broadly speaking, parliaments perform three main functions: representation, creating laws or legislation and exercising oversight. Different parliaments around the globe perform many additional functions depending on the type of democratic system the parliament is capacity and resources, and the responsibilities and constraints placed on parliament by the constitution of the country. This unit focuses specifically on how parliaments in conflict-affected countries conduct their legislative business and make laws. This unit will address how former antagonists who have become Members of Parliament (MPs) can best work together to conduct legislative business. In addition, this unit looks at the process of conducting parliamentary business in conflict affected countries, whether through debates in the parliamentary chamber or through the committee system. The roles that certain actors play in the conduct of parliament’s legislative business will also be analyzed, notably the role of political parties and presiding officers.
4.2 Building a Culture of Cooperation in Parliament
As a precondition for parliamentarians being able to conduct their business, members must respect parliament as an institution, and exhibit a willingness to work together to solve common problems. For this reason, before seeking to conduct parliamentary business, whether on the floor of parliament or in committees, any potential animosities that exist need to be addressed. Only after parliamentarians from previously hostile factions reconcile to work together through the political process can they build relationships across party lines and beyond their original group allegiances. For parliament to exercise a leadership role in a broader reconciliation process, parliamentarians themselves need to be able to work together. Parliament must consider confidence-building measures between the governing party and the opposition. The level of confidence between different sides of parliament can be bolstered, for example, by ensuring transparency in decision making, placing greater importance on the committee structure, and above all, ensuring that all parliamentarians participate in parliamentary business, rather than sidelining certain groups or members.
4.3 Codes of Conduct
A non-partisan parliamentary “code of conduct” that reflects parliament’s standing in the community should be developed to establish a standard of conduct expected from members when in and out of parliament. Codes of conduct are basic documents written in easily understood language that set forth broad goals and objectives that legislators seek to achieve and outline the principles of proper conduct. A code of conduct can also set out expectations on how parliamentarians should conduct themselves in relation to one another, namely with respect and in the spirit of cooperation. Breaches of the code are referred to the Presiding Officer, or Speaker, a parliamentary committee on standards or privileges, or some other complaints mechanism.
4.4 Rules of Procedure
Parties are most partisan during parliamentary debates and for this reason the procedures for debates need to be transparent, well defined and closely adhered if this forum is to serve as a conflict management tool rather than a place to merely entrench the positions of conflicting parties. The rules of procedure that determine how to conduct the business of parliament and define the relationship between the majority and minority parties should be fair and applied impartially. Discussions of bills should not be blocked by majority parties, and legislation should not be passed without debate or, when important legislation is being considered, without referring it to committee. This is particularly important when the executive belongs to the majority party in parliament because without proper debate parliament is unable to fulfill its oversight and accountability function. Sometimes, though, despite the best intent parliament has little choice but to pass legislation quickly, particularly when the executive holds some legislative power. In such instances parliament is powerless to fulfill one of their functions.
The rules of procedure provide the framework within which parliamentarians voice their concerns on the floor of parliament, and ensure that focus remains on the issues at hand. Clear rules of procedure and subsequent structured debate facilitate parliament’s peace building efforts by moving issues of contention between groups in the community away from the point where violent conflict could erupt to a more orderly debate about the issues. If rules of procedure are not enforced parliament runs the risk of parliamentary debates degenerating into personal attacks rather than focusing on important policy considerations. Political parties have a vital role to play in ensuring that the floor of parliament reaches its potential as a forum for peace building.
4.5 Committee Deliberations
Though there are a number of ways parliaments and parliamentarians are able to contribute to peace building, the most notable is through the committee mechanism. There is no single model for the conduct of parliamentary committees. Some countries include the type of committee structure in their constitutions, whilst others have sectoral committees and other countries instigate ad hoc specialized public interest committees. The decision-making process within committees lends itself to consensus decision making. This occurs when issues are brought before the committee and are resolved through compromise. The committee system enables committee members to bring the specific concerns of their constituents to the decision-making process. In addition, the absence of the public and the media during private negotiations often makes it easier for parliamentarians to make compromises across party lines. This process helps parliamentarians to focus on the substance of the issues without having the pressure to perform in front of a broader audience. Committees not only contribute to compromise and consensus building, but also provide oversight of the executive by reviewing the budget and examining the
conduct of ministers in both presidential and parliamentary systems. In order for committees to be effective, irrespective of the form of the committee structure, parliamentarians who are members of the committees and representatives of the people should be free to question any entity from government. Parliamentary committees operate as effective peace building models, particularly committees that are issue specific, as they ensure the conflict moves from a people centered approach to a debate about the issues. Furthermore, parliamentarians who have constituencies that are specifically concerned about certain issues, for instance rural communities or minority ethnic and religious groups, are able to bring their concerns to the table and ensure that a compromise solution is reached. In this way parliamentary representatives working in the committee structure are able to work towards satisfying the concerns of their constituents about issues that directly affect them. If the main concerns of all the groups with a vested interest are satisfied there will be no incentive for those groups to resort to violent conflict in order to have their interests met. Furthermore, a successful consensus outcome will act as an incentive for those same groups to continue using parliament as a means of resolving conflicting interests in future.
The size of the committee also has an impact on its effectiveness. Reaching a unanimous committee position across party lines on prospective legislation is far more influential than when a minority report is issued and, in general, the fewer the members on a committee, the easier it will be able to arrive at a consensus position. Parliaments utilize committees to fulfill their major functions – representation, lawmaking and oversight. This unit looks at how committees in conflict-affected countries can go about lawmaking, in particular, reviewing bills and investigating issues, so as to ensure that legislation contributes to conflict prevention and poverty reduction. Similar to the structure of parliamentary committees, the role committees have with respect to amending government bills varies widely from country to country; from merely making recommendations for amendments to having the power to reject government bills or initiates their own bills. Parliamentary committees operate as effective peace building models, particularly committees that are topic or issue specific. Committees may be less adversarial and
able to ensure that conflict moves from being centered on people and personalities to a debate about the issues – therefore they are more constructive in developing solutions. Committees utilize less formal rules of procedure than those used during debates on the floor of parliament and the committee mechanism provides an opportunity for members to devise compromises that may reconcile partisan differences. Parliamentarians who have constituencies with special concerns and needs, for instance rural communities or minority ethnic and religious groups, are able to voice their concerns in a more focused environment where it is easier for their voices to be heard and where they can work with other parliamentarians to find a compromise solution. If the main concerns of all groups with vested interests are satisfied, there will be little incentive for those groups to resort to violent conflict to have their interests met. Furthermore, a successful consensus outcome will act as an incentive for those same groups to continue using parliament as a means of resolving conflicting interests in the future. The interests of divergent groups can be brought to the attention of the relevant parliamentary committee, not just by each group’s representative in parliament, but by direct submissions from the group to the committee. Committees also enjoy an advantage over the full parliamentary chamber in that they are smaller, and therefore more mobile. As long as the security situation permits, parliamentary committees in conflict-affected countries can conduct hearings throughout the country, traveling to regions where legislation or initiatives may have a pronounced or specific impact. Holding hearings in the community takes the work of parliament to the people, thereby building greater public confidence in parliament as an institution and allowing greater input from those affected by the legislation. Such feedback, in conjunction with parliamentarians providing views and information from the groups they represent, is integral to ensuring that parliament is truly responsive to the needs and wishes of all segments of society. If divergent segments of the
community have confidence in parliament and their concerns are heard and considered by the committee during decision-making processes, those same groups will be far more likely to accept the outcome, even if it does not meet all their expectations.
4.6 Legislative Development
Aside from providing a forum for the discussion of divergent views, parliament can assist the peace building process by seeking to establish the legislative and institutional framework to help prevent further conflict. When given the opportunity, parliament should pass legislation that creates an environment assisting peace building by encouraging a more accountable and informed system. This type of legislation is usually introduced by the executive but an effective parliament can promote its introduction and, indeed, provoke it through effective political action. In order to develop an informed and accountable democracy the Principles for an Informed Democracy suggests governments and parliaments should:
- Pass freedom of information legislation;
- Resist privacy legislation that could be used to suppress freedom of speech and the media;
- Apply parliamentary privilege fully to all fair and accurate reports of parliamentary proceedings, including committees Reject or repeal legislation to license media, journalists and presses;
- Repeal criminal defamation laws so that the media is no longer subjected to punitive controls that curb freedom of expression;
- Exercise caution in the passage of anti-terrorism legislation which may limit society’s freedom or make the state less accountable; and
- Reject or repeal laws that empower the state to censure or punish political opponents and the media for partisan reasons.
In addition to ensuring that legislation is passed to develop an informed and transparent environment, parliaments can further promote peace building by facilitating the introduction and adoption of legislation that protects fundamental freedoms. For instance, after obtaining its introduction by the executive parliament can, pass laws that entrench and strengthen human rights protections, minority rights guarantees, and nationality legislation. Entrenching such protections demonstrates a willingness on the part of the government to take the role of minority groups seriously within society at large. These types of initiatives promote peace by creating an environment where aggrieved parties feel they have a resolution to a conflict, other than by resorting to violence. For instance, if a member of a minority group faces discrimination from government officials she will be able to seek redress in accordance with the legislation protecting rights. As such, it is important that along with passing the requisite legislation, parliament also
encourage the formation of agencies and programs to implement and enforce these protections, such as human rights commissions. Many of these legislative initiatives traditionally fall within the ambit of the executive’s responsibility. However, parliament, as the direct representatives of the people, can promote the introduction of such legislation and seek to make it as robust as possible when it is introduced by the executive.
The Opposition, Consensus and the National Interest
Sheikh Hasina formed what she called a "Government of National Consensus" in June 1996, which included one minister from the Jatiya Party and another from the Jatiyo Samajtantric Dal, a very small leftist party. The Jatiya Party never entered into a formal coalition arrangement, and party president H.M. Ershad withdrew his support from the government in September 1997. Only three parties had more than 10 members elected to the 1996 Parliament: The Awami League, BNP, and Jatiya Party. Jatiya Party president, Ershad, was released from prison on bail in January 1997.
Although international and domestic election observers found the June 1996 election free and fair, the BNP protested alleged vote rigging by the Awami League. Ultimately, however, the BNP party decided to join the new Parliament. The BNP soon charged that police and Awami League activists were engaged in large-scale harassment and jailing of opposition activists. At the end of 1996, the BNP staged a parliamentary walkout over this and other grievances but returned in January 1997 under a four-point agreement with the ruling party. The BNP asserted that this agreement was never implemented and later staged another walkout in August 1997. The BNP returned to Parliament under another agreement in March 1998.
In June 1999, the BNP and other opposition parties again began to abstain from attending Parliament. Opposition parties staged an increasing number of nationwide general strikes, rising from 6 days of general strikes in 1997 to 27 days in 1999. A four-party opposition alliance formed at the beginning of 1999 announced that it would boycott parliamentary by-elections and local government elections unless the government took steps demanded by the opposition to ensure electoral fairness. The government did not take these steps, and the opposition subsequently boycotted all elections, including municipal council elections in February 1999, several parliamentary by-elections, and the Chittagong city corporation elections in January 2000.
In July 2001, the Awami League government stepped down to allow a caretaker government to preside over parliamentary elections. Political violence that had increased during the Awami League government's tenure continued to increase through the summer in the run up to the election. In August, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina agreed during a visit of former President Jimmy Carter to respect the results of the election, join Parliament win or lose, foreswear the use of hartals (violently enforced strikes) as political tools, and if successful in forming a government allow for a more meaningful role for the opposition in Parliament. The caretaker government was successful in containing the violence, which allowed a parliamentary general election to be successfully held on October 1, 2001.
5.2 Opposition Charges and Strategies
The charges against the ruling party essentially revolve around the issue of insufficiency of parliamentary time given to opposition members. They particularly cite insufficient time for debate, inadequate time exposure of opposition leaders by government controlled TV and Radio, and a quickened time span for passage of important bills affecting vital national interests. In particular, BNP leadership has denounced the hurried passage of such important treaties as the Water Sharing Treaty with India, and Peace Treaty with the tribal insurgents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In order to pressure the government into a defensive position, the opposition leadership had plans to launch a mass movement to mobilize support for a referendum on the Peace treaty issue. Simultaneously, they would continue to air their specific reservations and grievances from the floor, and periodically stage disruptive walkouts on the justification of opposition time deprivation.9 When the time was ripe, which the opposition expected toward the end of the term of the current parliament around 1999-2000, and people sufficiently frustrated with the AL-GOB, a mass movement led by the BNP would be launched to create further problems of governance. This, according to some opposition strategists, would assure the BNP an electoral victory in 2001. In order to prepare for such a movement and, at the same time, putting increasing pressure on the AL-GOB to schedule a midterm general elections under a non-party Caretaker Government in accordance with the 13th amendment of the constitution, 30 young Turks out of a total 116 BNP MPs prevailed on the party leadership to require from each a letter of resignation from parliament which would remain with the party chief until her decision to hand over to the Speaker of the House. Perhaps, this was a prudent way to close ranks within the main opposition party on the future course of an extra-parliamentary mass movement to force GOB to schedule a midterm general election. The subsequent electoral alliance between BNP and three conservative opposition parties, namely Jatio Party(Ershad), Jamaat-i-Islami and Islamic Oykko Jote(IOJ)has been forged to strengthen the opposition movement against the AL. This strategy is to pay AL back in its own coins for the mass movement in 1994 against the BNP-GOB after negotiations between the two parties over a non-party Caretaker Government-held general elections collapsed. The main opposition parties, particularly BNP, seem to be following a plan of disrupting parliamentary process through frequent walkouts and prolonged Hartals. This started after a district court found fifteen former army officers guilty of killing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, most of his family, and a several close relatives on August 15, 1975. Among AL top leaders, emotions ran high because the Prime Minister and two of her cabinet members had lost their families in that carnage. Mohammad Nasim, the Home Minister, whose father served as Prime Minister under Mujib and was killed inside the jail, questioned the motive of the BNP leadership for not supporting court trials of unresolved murders, including that of General Ziaur Rahman. In reaction, BNP members staged a parliamentary walkout and called a Hartal for three days from November 7 to 10, 1999. BNP called another general strike in protest against an attack against one of the leaders of its student wing, who later succumbed to his injuries. Considering the economic havoc caused by general strikes, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made an open commitment against strikes urging the BNP to reciprocate. Khaleda Zia reiterated her previous conditions for not calling Hartals, e.g. withdrawal of false charges against her party leaders and workers, freeing those languishing in different jails, allowing peaceful public meetings and protest marches, giving equal air time on radio and TV coverage, etc. On the strike issue seventeen ambassadors representing the US, UK, Sweden, France, Germany, and a number of other Western countries received briefings from both the PM and Leader of the opposition. Perhaps the ambassadors hoped for some signs of cooperation between the two on some form of agreement concerning counterproductive general strikes, which did not materialize. It is doubtful whether or not in 2000 BNP will find as powerful an issue as AL’s Caretaker Government on which to launch a mass movement before the scheduled time for general elections in 2001. The law and order issue, which the BNP expects to turn into a catalyst, still lacks the needed intensity for such a movement. Instead, the devastating flood during July-September of 1998,and a less severe one in 1999, which had inundated three-fourths of the country, drew mass support for both government and opposition efforts to tide over a most difficult crisis facing the nation. Interestingly, if there were to be a midterm general election, it would most likely be at the urging of the AL in order to improve its numerical position in Parliament The AL-BNP rivalry, as a part of a new political phenomenon of a competitive party system, becomes more understandable in the context of two complementary approaches in the study of time toward democratization (Schmitter and Santiso, 1998).11 The first approach is qualitative, which considers time from the perspective of its mental representation; the other, quantitative, from the dimension of its physical allocation. Linkages between the past and present with respect to democratic experiments and the degree of their success and failure have been interpreted very differently by opposing partisan interests, giving rise to violent confrontation in Bangladesh as in many other less developed countries, and some developed countries. On this time evaluative issue, many parliamentary debates have degenerated into personal denunciations having nothing to do with important issues and problems facing the nation. And the quantitative evaluation of time, as mentioned earlier, has propelled opposing parliamentary forces into grid-locks, seriously undermining the viability of the democratizing process. Instead of taking up vital issues such as poverty alleviation strategies, effective implementation of GOB’s literacy, education and skill-building, nutrition, health care and family planning, privatization of State Owned Enterprises, and legal reform programs, parliamentarians have routinely engaged in renouncing the policies and actions of current and past GOBs.
5.3 Consensus Forming Efforts
Considering the continuation of parliamentary dysfunctions underscored by an utter disregard of time rules causing mutual denunciations and rowdyism, the prospects of maturity of the political culture of Bangladesh may seem remote. But a possibility for hope emerges when leaders, such as those of the tribal negotiating team, displayed a measure of moderation and a sense of urgency in resolving problems of ethnic nationalism and the hazards of personalizing political issues. Citing relevant provisions of the 1997 Peace Treaty between the GOB and tribal insurgents, they pointed out that the peace initiatives occurred during the BNP government, and could have produced a peace treaty based on similar conditions as the ones incorporated later under the successor AL government. Hopefully, this sends a positive message to all parties that negotiated settlements demand mutual considerations without necessarily compromising national sovereignty and national interest. A successfully negotiated settlement in this context would certainly be a source of inspiration and an important step for both government and opposition parties to address burning issues in parliamentary debates instead of being carried away by mutual denunciations. Anticipated reforms in strengthening the standing and select committees with proportional representation from parliamentary parties, a cabinet proportionately reflecting the strength of different political parties in Parliament, together with the improvement of day-to-day administration of the Parliament itself, could improve the environment for law-making significantly.
The Opposition, the people and the Civil Society
6.1 Civil Society view in Bangladesh
There is currently no legislated Right to Information in Bangladesh. Among the civil society activists there is little awareness of this issue, and the utility of having such a right, especially with regard to empowering the citizens. Some simple publications in Bangla have been published by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), but have only been circulated quite recently, and mostly among colleagues. People in Bangladesh face great difficulties in accessing even the most mundane information from public authorities. The majority of the people in Bangladesh are landless, and they survive by selling their own labour. This marginalized majority is at the mercy of the state, big business and trans-national entities that routinely make decisions affecting their lives, without taking their opinions into any account. The idea of human rights is not well known among the majority landless population, but if they could be made aware of their rights, and if the Right to Information could be made understandable to them, there would surely be a mass-movement to get those rights, including RTI.
6.2 The Concept of Civil Society
Enlightenment needed. The term "civil society" can be traced through the works of Cicero and other Romans to the ancient Greek philosophers, although in classical usage civil society was equated with the state. The modem idea of civil society emerged in the Scottish and Continental Enlightenment of the late 18th century. A host of political theorists, from Thomas Paine to Georg Hegel, developed the notion of civil society as a domain parallel to but separate from the state–a realm where citizens associate according to their own interests and wishes. This new thinking reflected changing economic realities: the rise of private property, market competition, and the bourgeoisie. It also grew out of the mounting popular demand for liberty, as manifested in the American and French revolutions. The term fell into disuse in the mid-19th century as political philosophers turned their attention to the social and political consequences of the industrial revolution. It bounced back into fashion after World War II through the writings of the Marxist theorist Antonio Gmmsci, who revived the term to portray civil society as a special nucleus of independent political activity, a crucial sphere of struggle against tyranny. Although Gramsci was of the right, his books were influential in the 1970s and 1980s with persons fighting against dictatorships of all political stripes in Eastern Europe and Latin America. Czech, Hungarian, and Polish activists also wrapped themselves in the banner of civil society, endowing it with a heroic quality when the Berlin Wall fell. Suddenly, in the 1990s, civil society became a mantra for everyone from presidents to political scientists. The global trend toward democracy opened up space for civil society in formerly dictatorial countries around the world. In the United States and Western Europe, public fatigue with tired party systems sparked interest in civil society as a means of social renewal. Especially in the developing world, privatization and other market reforms offered civil society the chance to step in as governments retracted their reach. And the information revolution provided new tools for forging connections and empowering citizens. Civil society became a key element of the post-cold-war zeitgeist.
6.3 A Strong Civil Society Ensures Democracy
Tempting thought. An active, diverse civil society often does play a valuable role in helping advance democracy. It can discipline the state, ensure that citizens' interests are taken seriously, and foster greater civic and political participation. Moreover, scholars such as Harvard political scientist Robert Putnammwhose influential 1995 article, "Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital," chronicled an apparent decline in U.S. community-oriented associations– have argued forcefully that a weak civil society leads to a lack of "civic engagement" and "social trust." But other evidence suggests that a strong civil society can actually reflect dangerous political weaknesses. In a 1997 article that some have nicknamed "Bowling with Hitler," Princeton professor Sheri Berman presented a sobering analysis of the role of civil society in Weimar Germany. In the 1920s and 1930s, Germany was unusually rich in associational life, with many people belonging to the sorts of professional and cultural organizations that are thought to be mainstays of pro-democratic civil society. Berman argues, however, that not only did Germany's vibrant civil society fail to solidify democracy and liberal values, it subverted them. Weak political institutions were unable to respond to the
6.4 Real Civil Society Doesn't Take Money from the Government
When civil society groups wage a campaign for freedom in a dictatorship, a key element of their political bona rides is complete independence, financial and otherwise, from the government. In democratic and democratizing countries, however, the rules are different. Many civil society groups receive government funding. In parts of Western Europe, government support for civil society is widespread, including among groups that take on the government, such as human rights and environmental organizations. Even in the United States, governmental funding of civil society is much more extensive than many people realize. A major comparative study of nonprofit sectors, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University, found that "Government is thus almost twice as significant a source of income for American nonprofit organizations as is private giving, despite the presence there of numerous large foundations and corporate giving programs." Definitely not. The rise of civil society induces some to see a nearly state-flee future in which tentative, minimalistic states hang back while powerful nongovernmental groups impose a new, virtuous civic order. This vision is a mirage. Civil society groups can be much more effective in shaping state policy if the state has coherent powers for setting and enforcing policy. Good nongovernmental advocacy work will actually tend to strengthen, not weaken state capacity. A clear example is U.S. environmental policy. Vigorous civic activism on environmental issues has helped prompt the creation of governmental environmental agencies, Laws and enforcement mechanisms. Nothing cripples civil society development like a weak, lethargic state. In Eastern Europe, civil society has come much further since 1989 in the countries where governments have proved relatively capable and competent, such as Poland and Hungary, and it has been retarded where states have wallowed in inefficiency and incompetence such as Romania, and for parts of the decade, Bulgaria. Outside of dictatorial contexts, states can play a valuable role in developing a healthy civil society. They can do so by establishing clear, workable regulatory frameworks for the nongovernmental sector, enacting tax incentives for funding of nonprofit groups, adopting transparent 26 FOREIGN POLICY Carothers procedures and pursuing parmerships with nongovernmental organizations. Civil society can and should challenge, irritate, and even, at times, antagonize the state. But civil society and the state need each other and, in the best of worlds, they develop in tandem, not at each other's expense
6.5 Civil society groups in Bangladesh call for more transparency from the ADB
A group of 10 non-governmental and voluntary organizations yesterday criticized Asian Development Bank (ADB) alleging that the Manila-based lending institution has systematically spawned and promoted poverty through its development policies. The Bangladesh Civil Society Working Group (BCSWG) formed to give inputs to ADB's new Public Communication Policy (PCP), at a meeting in Dhaka made a statement where it has questioned the role of ADB in development of the country. "The notion of development, which ADB promotes, is premised on a false notion of what constitutes poverty and the solutions required to eliminate it," said the statement of the group comprising Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), The Innovators, Coastal Development Partnership, LOKOJ, SEHD, Action Aid Bangladesh, VOICE, IED, BAPA and Uttaran. Bangladesh received a total of $40.7 billion from ADB till 2002-03 and the amount of aid started declining in 1980s. Such squeeze in the level of aid, donors' imposition of their 'single-minded approach' of development packaged in privatization, deregulation, and liberalization continue to remain unabated, the statement added. The BCSWG also criticized ADB's policies saying that the results of such policies have brought more miseries to the people instead of welfare. The group said the current policy regime has choked the development process in Bangladesh, where 90 million people do not have access to primary healthcare, 100 million lack access to adequate sanitation, 12 million under-five children are malnourished and 110 million are denied access to electricity. Because of these policies, socio-economic disparity has increased in the country, the statement said. The national income share of the bottom five percent of the population has declined from 1.03 percent to 0.67 percent, while that of the top five percent increased from 18.85 percent to 30.66 percent, it added. The working group alleged that on the issue of natural resources such as use of oil and gas for domestic purpose the ADB took an anti-people stand, having overt bias towards transnational corporations. It accused the ADB of not maintaining the project requirement and said people have resisted projects such as Khulna-Jessore Drainage Rehabilitation Project (KJDRP), Sundarbans Bio-diversity Conservation Project (SBCP) and Modhupur National Park Development Project (MNPDP), popularly known as Modhupur Eco-Park. "Past and ongoing projects of the ADB projects show that the appropriate information is not provided to the appropriate people at the appropriate time. There is lack of transparency and democracy within ADB's own structure," the statement said. The civil society group has asked the bank to disclose project and programme documents, ensure transparency, and make public all the proceedings between the bank and the government.
- The ADB, as a public institution established for public good, should clearly state a binding commitment that it has a legal and moral responsibility to the communities affected by its projects and should clearly outline a process through which all its policies, practices and documents should be made public before all decisions are made.
- Throughout the project cycle, the ADB should disclose project and programme documents that are already produced by the Bank and that provide regular updates on project and programme status.
- Prior informed consent of affected communities should be built into project feasibility phase. The process of formulating CSPs should undergo complete overhaul, in which people participation should not be mere cosmetic.
- Timely responses are essential. The request process in the draft policy allows up to 90 days for ADB to respond to a request for information. If the requestor moves to the appeal stage this can take another 195 days. Altogether, it can take up to six months to receive a decision on whether certain information will be disclosed
- The ADB should foster greater transparency in its corporate clients and require at least the same disclosure standards for private sector information as is required for public sector operations.
- The ADB should disclose detailed budgetary information including information on actual expenditures and outlays.
- The proceedings of the Board of Directors should be open to the public. Transcripts and summaries should be publicly available.
- All the proceedings between the Bank and the government, formal or informal, must be made public.
- An appropriate independent appeal mechanism is needed to interpret ADB’s ‘presumptions in favor of disclosure. Responses to request for information should include detailed explanations of the ‘harms’ associated with disclosure. Concurrently a specific and ‘harm’-based definition of business confidentiality is necessary to ensure disclosure policy accountability.
- It is our experience with past and ongoing projects of ADB that it is critical to give substantive information in local languages on affected people. It is the right of the affected people that they receive information of the projects at early stages of negotiations and not during the implementation phase, only. By not engaging in this practice ADB is denying the people’s right to information.
- It is almost comical to expect that citizens have to pay in order to gather information about project operations which affect their lives The current transparency practices of the ADB has failed to ensure accountability to the people that it is mandated to serve and the draft PCP has failed to conceive its main shortcoming in formulating a genuine communication policy that ensures the fundamental right to information because of its inherent structural rigidities arising out of its orthodox understanding of development. Thus, the draft PCP has failed to address many of the problems associated with access to information at the institution.
The Opposition in De-centralized Democracies
7.1 THE OPPOSITION IN A PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM
A situation in which the activity of politics is devalued is inimical to parliamentary democracy. Parliament, after all, is fundamentally about debate – "rhetoric" in the classical Greek sense – and the transacting of the people’s business in public. It is also about the right to dissent in civilized manner. Genuine political opposition is a necessary attribute of democracy, tolerance, and trust in the ability of citizens to resolve differences by peaceful means. The existence of an opposition, without which politics ceases and administration takes over, is indispensable to the functioning of parliamentary political systems. If these systems are perceived as not working well – as being "seriously overloaded," to quote a distinguished Canadian Opposition Leader, the Hon. Robert Stanfield – it may be the rights of political oppositions which are immediately and most visibly at stake, but ultimately the threat is to democratic rights and freedoms generally. The following paper is an attempt to come to grips with the challenging nature of the opposition’s role in Parliament, specifically in the Canadian context.
7.2 GOVERNMENT AND OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACIES
The division between government and opposition is as old as political democracy itself. In Aristotle’s Athenian polity the essence of self-government was that citizens were, in turn, both the rulers and the ruled. Government could alternate among different groups of citizens, and the minority could seek to persuade a majority of its point of view by peaceful (i.e., political) means. In an age of mass politics, direct citizen democracy has been replaced, with rare exceptions, by representative systems providing for periodic elections. In turn, these electoral contests are usually dominated by a small number of political parties which select their own candidates and leaders. What has not changed, however, in our modern liberal-democratic society is the hallowed principle that government must rest on the consent of the governed – which means, inter alia, that the minority accepts the right of the majority to make decisions, provided that there is reciprocal respect for the minority’s right to dissent from these decisions and to promote alternative policies. With the advent of representative and responsible parliamentary government, the distinction between "government" and "opposition" has become more formalized and routinized, but the underlying principles have not changed.
Of course it is not only in British-style Parliaments that this sort of ongoing legitimate contestation for decision-making power takes place. Every pluralistic democratic legislature contains both supporters and opponents of the executive. And, in all parts of the world, these legislatures are confronted with the problem of "executive dominance" in the face of modern demands for more and more government services. The complaint is often heard that because of these pressures legislative politics is inefficient, ineffective, and in danger of becoming obsolete. Accordingly, we shall look at some of the countervailing power available to oppositions in legislatures which, through their heritage in the British Commonwealth, look to the "Westminster model" of parliamentary democracy for inspiration.
Although one speaks of a "model," British parliamentary practice has evolved over centuries and still rests entirely on convention. The emergence of a set pattern of government and opposition is of comparatively recent origin. There was a time when the subjects thought fit for parliamentary debate were severely limited, when opposition to the government’s handling of affairs of state could be considered to smack of treason, and hence to be dangerous. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Member of Parliament who went beyond presenting private, local and special grievances or bills, to oppose the Crown, or even to debate such national issues as the right of succession, foreign policy and religion, risked imprisonment or worse. Of this period the historian Macaulay commented:
… Every man who then meddled with public affairs took his life in his hand… It was, we seriously believe, as safe to be a highwayman as to be a distinguished leader of the opposition…
It was not until the 18th century that it came to be constitutionally accepted that an opposition could be "loyal" across the whole spectrum of public policy. Nevertheless, one cannot refer to the existence of an opposition in the modern sense; throughout most of the 18th century not only was there no disciplined, organized, and ongoing political formation dedicated to opposing the government, but also the very idea of "faction" or "party" was disreputable. Since the gradual formation of cohesive Whig and Tory party groups in the latter part of the 18th century, the term "the Opposition" has been applied chiefly to the party or parties whose elected members do not support the ministry of the day and who offer themselves to the voting public, not just as individual candidates, but as an organized and disciplined alternative government. The actual term "His Majesty’s Opposition" was coined during a British debate in 1826 and has been in use ever since.
With the development of cabinet government and the rise of political parties, responsible government has come to rely on electoral strategies in addition to strictly parliamentary ones. The governing party is "responsible" to the Commons chiefly in that it can be turned out of office and replaced by another party at the next election. The government must continue to enjoy the confidence of the House between elections, but, even in minority government situations, the real test of confidence is not in the daily balance of forces between government and opposition in the chamber but in the anticipated or threatened electoral contest among the major parties. As the distinguished Canadian parliamentarian Stanley Knowles put it:
… The opposition should so conduct itself in Parliament as to persuade the people of the country that it could be an improvement on the government of the day. No one will deny that our system works best when there is a change of government at reasonable intervals.
The role of an opposition party, Mr. Knowles noted, is to check and prod, but ultimately to replace the government party. Bernard Crick has also described the British House of Commons as the place where a "continuous election campaign … is fought." In Canada in this century, however, Mr. Knowles’ criterion of "reasonable intervals" has often been more the exception than the rule. This has led a number of observers to point out the potential dangers to parliamentary processes of long periods where one party controls the executive. Because electoral standing is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of government legitimacy, one must guard against devaluing the ongoing test of legitimacy which takes place through the intermediary of the legislature and the legislative opposition.
It is crucial to maintain the distinction between parliamentary, representative democracy and the sort of direct, plebiscitary appeal to "the people" which history shows can be made compatible with the most technocratic and authoritarian forms of government. A vigorous opposition in Parliament can be the chief bulwark against the temptation to force majeure and bureaucratic empire. "The people" speak through the "loyal opposition" as well as the government, through back-benchers as well as Cabinet ministers. There is simply no substitute for the "checks and balances" which are brought into play in the representative and watchdog functions performed by ordinary Members of Parliament. Just as members of the upper house are expected to use it as a chamber of "sober second thought" as well as a guarantor of minority rights and sectional interests, so, too, members of the opposition in the lower house are called upon to act as a brake on government haste, to ensure that all legislation receives the "due process" of parliamentary deliberation, and to see that diverse and opposing points of view have a chance to be aired and defended.
A situation in which the activity of politics is devalued is inimical to parliamentary democracy. Parliament, after all, is fundamentally about debate – "rhetoric" in the classical Greek sense – and the transacting of the people’s business in public. It is also about the right to dissent in a civilized manner. Genuine political opposition is a necessary attribute of democracy, tolerance, and trust in the ability of citizens to resolve differences by peaceful means. The existence of an opposition, without which politics ceases and administration takes over, is indispensable to the functioning of parliamentary political systems. If these systems are perceived as not working well – as being "seriously overloaded," to quote a distinguished Canadian Opposition Leader, the Hon. Robert Stanfield – it may be the rights of political oppositions which are immediately and most visibly at stake, but ultimately the threat is to democratic rights and freedoms generally. The following paper is an attempt to come to grips with the challenging nature of the opposition’s role in Parliament, specifically in the Canadian context.
Government and Opposition: Roles, Rights and Responsibilities
An Overview Paper
Thus is defined the anarchist’s reasoning for not participating in elections. Paradoxically, however, it is also a reason why majority and minority parties in a parliament need to find ways of working constructively together without sacrificing their core principles. Today’s government may be tomorrow’s opposition and memories of poor treatment, perceived or real, may well affect how the new governing party treats the new opposition. If for no other reason than one of pragmatism, political parties represented in parliament need to see themselves as partners in the development of the democratic process. The Harare Declaration, which affirms democracy as a fundamental Commonwealth value, was a turning point for the Commonwealth as no other Commonwealth declaration has been for over a generation. That said, it is clear that no one can afford to be complacent about the state of democracy in the Commonwealth. As the UNDP Human Development Report for 2002 points out, many countries that have taken the first steps towards democracy have failed to consolidate and deepen that process. Some of them, unfortunately, are Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Accountability of and the Relationship between the Three Branches of Government have also taken dramatic steps to address the interrelated roles of the branches of government: Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary. This text expands on the issues addressed in the Harare Declaration through identifying the need for independence and accountability in all three governmental sections. In addition, the Principles identify the importance of restraint in power usage in each political sphere as well as the need to embrace a balance of power between each branch. These concepts are fundamental to functioning democracy, inside and outside the Commonwealth.
In its submission to Commonwealth Heads of Government in Abuja, Nigeria in December 2003, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) said the challenges facing democracies are constantly changing and public expectations – and public impatience for results – are growing relentlessly. The CPA’s submission also stressed that parliamentary government must not only be representative, responsible and accountable; but it must also be successful to give substance to the Commonwealth’s democratic principles. As the report of the joint CPA-Commonwealth Secretariat workshop on the Role of the Opposition (London, 1998) states, “this requires a shared commitment to the essentials of parliamentary democracy and to making parliament work properly”.
In many countries, government and opposition parties completely fail to reach an understanding on what the Commonwealth Secretary General has called the “collaborative context” for their work. There is no agreement on roles, rights and responsibilities, on limits and consensus, on what the idea of a “constructive and responsible” opposition means in practice, and on when and how government and opposition should work together to promote national consensus. In many cases, there is no real dialogue at all. In short, very often there is no sense in which governing and opposition parties see themselves as partners in the development of the democratic process.
The reality is that the interplay between governing and opposition parties is an essential part of politics – parliamentary opposition is crucial to a healthy democracy. As the then CPA Secretary General said at the opening of the 1998 workshop, “governing and opposition parties should see themselves as partners in the development of the democratic process”. It is constructive opposition that gives voice to those in society who represent a perspective other than the status quo, and the opposition must articulate arguments as to how and why that status quo should change.
A frequently made mistake is to equate democracy only with the holding of regular elections. While free and fair elections are certainly a condition for the existence of democracy, of themselves they will not guarantee that the institutions function properly. Democracy also requires a parliament that represents the people, not one controlled by the president, prime minister or the military. A parliament representing all parts of society is essential. It must be endowed with institutional powers and practical means to express the will of the people by legislating and overseeing government action.
A key aspect of full societal representation in Parliament is the inclusion of women in politics. This is an area which needs much improvement. While the overall number of women Parliamentarians in the Caribbean Region has not met the Commonwealth target of 30 per cent, widely recognised to be the minimum figure necessary for a critical mass of women in Parliament, the figure for the Caribbean countries (15.6 per cent) is higher than the current Commonwealth average (14.1 per cent) and the global average of (13.8 per cent). Grenada is close to the target with (27 per cent) and St. Vincent & Grenadines also has over 20 per cent female representation. In a thriving democracy, a political culture exists which sees the civic good as a valuable end in itself and not merely as something that stands in the way of achieving political objectives. In failing or nascent democracies, too often parties believe that they alone are the purveyors of truth. Yet, a comparative study quickly shows that if a governing party restrains itself in the exercise of its power, then opposition parties are more likely to be cooperative.
Democracies are better than authoritarian regimes at managing conflicts because the political space and the institutions that provide for open contests give opponents hope that change is possible without destroying the system. Some politicians argue that democracy leads to political instability but empirical studies show that the reverse is true. Without opposition parties, uncensored public criticism and the threat of being thrown out of office, rulers can act with impunity.
It is, of course, the right of a democratically elected government to govern but it is also the duty of that government to do so in a manner that contributes to the consolidation of democracy. Sustainable democracy can only grow from within a society and can neither be imposed or prescribed from outside. Governing parties need to recognize that an effective and responsible opposition is essential for the success of parliamentary democracy. The government must, therefore, provide the necessary resources, parliamentary time, and information, fair access to the media and opportunities for scrutiny if the opposition is to be able to discharge its duties. Sadly, such conditions do not always exist in Commonwealth Parliaments. In a large number of countries, not only those that have only in recent years introduced a multi-party system, this is a pressing need to give greater recognition to the role of the Opposition, thereby giving them the opportunity to function properly. Too often there is a “winner takes all” approach on the part of governing parties. One expression of that is the tendency to regard victory at the polls as an invitation to capture all democratic and state structures and to treat the institutions of state as no more than extensions of the ruling party. There may also be a determination to completely sideline the opposition rather than to work with it. It is still difficult for many in the Commonwealth to recognise that the opposition has a legitimate role and that it must be given a formal place in parliamentary and other political arrangements.vii In some circumstances, Members may find it difficult to be critical of the government while serving as members of the ruling party as there are potential conflicts between their interests as parliamentarians and their loyalty to the party hierarchy and the executive branch. Cooperation between governing and opposition Members, however, can be an essential element of constructive and efficient governance.
If, as is argued, minority parties play a vital role in the process of democratic governance, what is that role? It is not only to oppose, but to offer positive counter proposals and initiatives of its own. It is also to make the majority party aware of the minority views in a critical but constructive way. viii There is a need to challenge government policies vigorously and to provide another perspective on policy issues even if there is no foreseeable hope that their party will attain power. Opposition parties need to present themselves as a credible and responsible alternative government. In doing so, they must acknowledge their responsibility not just to reflect, but to lead, public opinion.
Despite their important role, opposition parties must remember that the voters, having elected another party to govern, sent them into parliament as a minority. Parties that persist in simply obstructing the processes of government risk being marginalized, not just by the majority party, but by the electorate in the longer term. An essential requirement for a stable democracy is that voters must be able to believe that their elected representatives will be prepared to put the interests of the country above narrow party concerns. Parliament does not lend itself to quick cures, but it is able through careful and considered debate, to bring about long-lasting ones. For this to be achieved, however, a mature and constructive relationship must exist between government and opposition.
The opposition can often take on the role of a spoiler, exploiting all opportunities to damage the governing party and, in the process, very often failing to distinguish between harm done to its opponents and harm done to the country. In some countries, opposition parties often resort to the use of the crude, and damaging, weapons of the political strike, endless no confidence motions and boycotts. As the Commonwealth Secretary General has made clear, that is a denial of parliamentary politics.
In many cases, this negative approach arises out of too singular a focus on the promotion of the opposition as an alternative government at the expense of its responsibilities in terms of government oversight and the representation of minority views. There is, undoubtedly, an equal responsibility on government and opposition parties to promote participatory democracy. It is also essential that there is a shared commitment to the essentials of parliamentary democracy and to making parliament work properly. There also needs to be an agreement on “how the game is played” and the development of informal channels of communication between government and opposition so that both can keep in touch, however heated the political debate.
One of the key challenges in ensuring that parliamentary procedures promote, rather than prevent, constructive engagement is to avoid personalizing the debate or drawing such sharp party lines that discussion and compromise become impossible. If, as Von Clauswitz said, war is the extension of politics by other means, the aim of parliamentarians should be to strive for ways that allow genuine, and strongly held, disagreements to be expressed within the democratic process.
Parliaments act as watchdogs and, even where they lack the legal power to prevent certain executive measures from taking effect, or where there is an overwhelming government majority, they can still be the source of initiatives, raise issues for debate and call the government to account for its policies. Members can exercise a degree of independence by calling ministers to give evidence before committees, carrying out comprehensive budget reviews, and holding committee inquiries.
In a democratic order, the ruling party derives its mandate to rule from its success at the polls. For a defined term, it has exclusive responsibility for governing the country but within limits, some defined and enshrined within the provisions of the constitution, others subsisting by convention. But electoral majorities come and go. No ruling party can therefore plausibly claim to be the sole conscience and the sole embodiment of the will of the people – let alone their only prophet.
Neither is the cause of democracy served by a ruling party claiming to be coterminous with the state. If these and other excesses are to be avoided, as they have to be avoided if a credible democracy is to emerge, the constraints provided by the constitution will have to be supplemented by self-restraint on the part of the political parties. Majority parties must be allowed to rule but they must not rule in such a way as to appear to be gathering to themselves all power and influence within the state, thereby denying the rights of the opposition parties.
The duty of the opposition is to oppose. Its very existence adds to the legitimacy of the government and therefore to the stability of the country. How it discharges its function, especially in an infant democracy, is therefore very important. It has been said that while the minority must be allowed to have its say, the majority must always be allowed to have its way. This is true in a sense; but in terms of fostering confidence and mutual trust, in terms of rallying all those involved in politics to the fundamental institutions and interests of the state, it is not a particularly helpful maxim.
No opposition will confer legitimacy on the government of the day and the other institutions of state, or make for greater national stability, if it is not an opposition that is loyal to the interests of the state and of the nation. And it cannot be a loyal opposition if its manner of opposing is utterly unprincipled or if it seeks to couple constitutionalism with a readiness to exploit unconstitutional means to gain power. If, in their respective roles, governing parties and opposition parties are to contribute to the greater good of their nation, they need to cultivate a relationship based on mutual confidence and trust. That confidence will enable them to agree on what aspects of the national interest transcend party divides and which can therefore be
legitimately withdrawn from inter-party strife and brawls.
Other gains flow from mutual confidence between political parties in a state. A proper appreciation of their respective roles within the framework of constructive co-operation enables the national parliament to develop a collective personality of its own. Inevitably, the turn of the electoral wheel brings about changes in the membership of the body, but it is vital that it retains its nature and spirit and its capacity to inspire national loyalty. Political parties form the cornerstone of a democratic society and serve a function unlike any other institution in a democracy. Parties should aggregate and represent social interests and provide a structure for political participation. They train political leaders who will assume a role in governing society and contest, and win, elections to seek a measure of control of government institutions. In new and transitional democracies, many parties have little experience in organising their activities in parliament, which greatly affect the public's perceptions of a party and thus its effectiveness. In non-election periods, it is common for the parliamentary parties to become the public face of their political parties. Whether in government or in opposition, well-organised parliamentary groupings play a key role in strengthening the representative capacity of a parliament. In democracies worldwide, political parties are often either too weak, too personalistic, too constrained by oppressive governments, or too corrupt and out of touch to earn the respect and support of the public. When countries experience political crisis, it is often the troubled state of political parties that lies at the heart of the problem. The democratisation of political parties must be a priority in the efforts to restore public confidence in parties and the democratic process as a whole. In attending to this, a key issue will be how parties finance their activities.
Political party finance and related corruption pose one of the greatest threats to democratic and economic development worldwide. Corruption in politics, particularly during election periods, compromises a critical asset of democracy: the faith and support of ordinary citizens in the political system. When political parties fail to appeal to voters or suffer from weak institutional capacities, they often turn to vote-buying as a means to securing support. This in turn creates competitive election spending, driving up the cost of getting elected. As a result of high campaign costs, political parties become increasingly dependent on wealthy donors or, in the case of incumbents, on the wrongful use of state resources. Consequently, the basic underlying principles of democracy are undermined and public confidence in the political process is eroded. In some cases, already limited public funds are diverted for private gain. Over the past several years, party financing scandals have shaken countries in every region of the world, drawing increased international attention to the problem. In response, government officials and activists have launched public awareness campaigns and introduced legislative initiatives designed to restrict spending or improve disclosure about the sources of party funding and the expenditure of campaign funds. The success of these efforts varies and typically depends on a combination of legislation, enforcement regimes, sustained political will for reform, and public pressure to demand more accountability in politics.
Where political parties, and most especially opposition parties are weak, then other pressure groups move, either consciously or otherwise, to exploit the void. The media, single-issue groups, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are often left to grapple with what are intrinsically political issues. But leaving the field to such groups and failing to attend to the reform of political parties is not, ultimately, in the best interests of either the nation or the government. Unless the politics of democracy results in greater transparency and increased acceptance of partnership politics, representative politics will be undermined. At the beginning of this paper, it was argued that parliamentary parties, both those who govern and those who aspire to govern, must find constructive ways for working together while articulating their disagreements. A real commitment to democratic dialogue and to constructive opposition is essential if moves to strengthen democratic government are to bear fruit. If democracy in the Caribbean is to grow into liberal democracy, parliamentary institutions must be nurtured and supported. Thus, the need for constructive engagement between government and opposition is an imperative not only of pragmatism but also of democracy.
Parliament has already resumed and I was hoping that things would be done differently this time by the NDC MPs. Certainly, we need an opposition in Parliament to hold the government to account but whilst the CPP and PNC MPs have been judging issues on their merits an determining their positions, the NDC MPs have taken their role as an opposition party to mean opposing everything that the government does.
The NDC continued with its strategy of destructive criticism also to the vetting of the minister-designates. Vetting is comparable to being interviewed for a job. You are asked questions, which are related to your ability to do the job. If you are part of a Vetting or Interview Committee and you do not have any relevant question to ask, the best thing to do is to keep quiet. I was ashamed to listen to Mr. Bagbin asking Mr. Dan Botwe to explain how he got his name. What would have happened if Mr. Botwe had said "I don't know?" Would he have been disqualified because he did not know the origin of his name? One thing the advanced countries have learned to do is to separate politics from personal affairs unless the personal things have bearing on your functioning as a politician
Our main opposition BNP is again absent in the current parliament session which is very important for the people as it is the budget session. This session is important as it is the first budget for the current government and the government has to play a vital role as the economic recession is soon going to hurt our economy. But the opposition party is not attending the session as they think that the seating arrangement by the speaker is not appropriate. Though they complain on the same issue in the very first session of this parliament but they attended it after some changes. What happened within this break which forced them not to attend the session?
I think the reason is something else rather than the appropriate seating arrangement. Some of the leaders of the main opposition party already revealed some news on this issue. There is a competition among the senior MP’s of the party on who is going to get the seat beside the opposition leader or who will get the seat in the front row. So there is a problem inside the party on the seating arrangement and we can assume that they are boycotting the session to tackle their own problem. If the information that we heard from some of the leaders of the opposition in media is true then it is a shame for us. Can’t the opposition raise their problems in the parliament? Why they are boycotting the session while the ruling party is showing a damn care attitude?
The opposition should understand that there is other way of protest rather than boycotting an important session like budget where they should raise the demands of people. Although our opposition is small in number but they have some experienced parliamentarian who can play an effective role in this vital session. The government has failed in many ways to establish good governance in the country. Besides, some irresponsible comments from some important ministers questioned the success of the government, but unfortunately our opposition also failed to protest any of those.
We want to see that both our opposition and ruling party play constructive role for the country. But they are busy with their own party and own interest. I hope the opposition party will join the budget session and debate on the burning issues for the sake of the people of Bangladesh.
NDC will become irrelevant to the development of democracy of the country, if it does not truly practice what is expected of an opposition party. The major role of NDC in Parliament is to propose alternatives to what the government does so that the public gets the benefit of political debate between different directions. If the NDC criticises the government in a positive way, it can cause government to adopt positive proposals. The NDC seems to neglect this advice because it is comfortable losing elections. As somebody said the other day, Mr. Rawlings is happy when NDC loses a Presidential election because he wants to go into history as the only NDC President. My prayer is that CPP will rise and fulfil the role of opposition, which the NDC is not able to fill.
Reports released during 2002-5).
Malhotra, G.C.). New Delhi, Metropolitan.