Constitution of Bangladesh more or less is good constitution in the world no doubt. But some articles’ which are very controversial in that sense these are not coincide in the fabric of democracy.
Our constitution itself proclaim that in Article 11, The Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed, and in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured. Besides that, if we want to see the Article 39 (1), Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed.
Unfortunately, it is very regret for us when we see the Article 70(1) which states that, 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.
Under the 1972 Constitution there were mainly two conditions against floor crossing:
- If a member resigns from his party.
- 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:
If a member is present in the parliament but still doesn’t take part in voting.
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:
None can’t form a group within one political party.
- If one elected member joins any other political party then it is the violation of Article 70.
These Amendments were to just create a situation in the parliament where the Executive has all the authority and can apply dictatorship. Here, there will be no chance of democracy.
Floor Crossing Law in Bangladesh – Democracy or Dictatorship
In a vibrant democracy, democratic practice or power of the people should not end with the casting of a ballot. But unfortunately for us, as soon as we have elected our representative lawmaker, he is out of our hands and into the power command of the party that nominated him. No matter how much a particular party decision might affect the interests of his constituents or push the boundaries of his conscience, a “lawmaker” has no real power to vote against it.
With this arrangement in place, sadly since the very inception of our country, our Parliament is only a rubber stamp to be used at the whim of the party in power. Not only does the opposition never stand a practical chance of winning a vote against the government, no critic inside the ruling party holds any bargaining power against an unreasonable or harmful decision of the government. He is free to speak his mind on the Parliament floor but the freedom ends once the Speaker calls for votes. From that moment onwards, a Member of Parliament, the representative of the people, must only blindly follow his herd.
After so many years of democracy and with the presence of a strong bi-partisan political system, unfounded fears of “floor-crossing” are hardly any justification for holding back MPs from doing what they are mandated to do. It seems likely that without a wholesale scrapping of the provision and addressing the issue head-on, the opportunity will go missing for a vibrant parliamentary culture. A constitution without Article 70 will at least give us a fighting chance of creating a mature parliamentary system where the government is checked and balanced by its own ranks and the Opposition has a genuine say in the law making process of the country.
If we amended Article 70 to allow lawmakers to vote their consciences, then things might well not change for the better, indeed things might even change for the worse — but such a reform at least makes change for the better possible. Amending Article 70 might not solve all our political problems, but it is a necessary first step to reforming Parliament and allowing it to function as intended in a parliamentary democracy.
From our past experience we saw if the parliament is not functioning well there is a big chance that unelected government took place the governing rule. And on the other hand when ruling parties has two third majorities it might be created big threat. Though the member has parliament has no rights to vote against party decision it may led out the ruling parties as a so called autocratic government.
Some Recent Incidents
Bangladesh has been victimized due to this law several times. In August, 2003, Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury was formerly a member of the BNP and the President of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has some collations in ideas and views between him and the party. As a result he need to leave the party and form a separate one named Bikolpo Dhara Bangladesh (BDB).
Again, in July, 2009 Awami League general secretary Abdul Jalil gave a speech against the activities of this party. As a result, he has to face a huge controversy and finally he resigned from the party.
Very recently, in June, 2012 Tanjim Ahmad Sohel Taj, son of the country’s first prime minister Tajuddin Ahmad, resigned as lawmaker and declared that he would no longer be involved in active politics. He had been elected into this parliament but his opinions were different from others. He had not the space to do the better things he wanted to do for his political area.
We need responsible political parties and ministers who will be responsible to the legislation and parliament. In that case we really do not need any Article 70 or anti floor crossing law. But, as we all know the political culture of this country it will not be wise to think that this situation will change overnight. So, we can’t just remove this law straight away. Though, I believe to establish the rule of law and to witness ultimate spirit of Parliamentary government we need to get rid of this law. But, this is not possible in reality. At best we can change it slightly the way I mentioned in the recommendation part so that we can enjoy some democracy. The position of the MPs will also be developed if these changes can be assured. It can also be the stepping stone to be a more responsible government.
For the development of any country the government must have this gesture to be accountable and responsible for its actions. I expect and hope by changing this law a little bit we will start to enjoy the good result of parliamentary government. In the long run maybe someday we will enjoy a system where there will be no need of such Article 70 and we will be able to apply rule of law. Our politicians will be confident and will be more responsible to parliament. A healthy and lively Parliament that is what we want to see.