Checks and balances of power vital in democracy

August 12, 2015

Says citizen platform, recommends formation of ‘constitution reform commission’
Concerned Citizen’s Group, a platform of distinguished personalities, yesterday recommended formation of a “constitution reform commission” to bring necessary changes to the charter for an effective democratic system. The proposed commission also seeks to work on how to bring check and balance of power of prime minister who has been enjoying an absolute authority over state control since restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991.
The group made the recommendations after a roundtable titled “Checks and balances of powers to achieve fuller democracy” at the capital’s Brac Centre Inn.
It said it would formally submit the recommendations to different political parties for their consideration. In the meantime, it will hold discussions at divisional level with citizens, particularly the youth, for their opinion on the initiative.
“Our initiative will not die out. It might take several years — five or ten even — to get results like the ones in Sri Lanka, where democracy has taken a good shape after 13 years of efforts,” said ATM Shamsul Huda, former chief election commissioner and convener of the group.
The group first appeared before the media on February 13 in the wake of deadly violence during the BNP-led 20-party alliance’s anti-government movement. At the time, the group called for an immediate end to violence and talks between rival Awami League and BNP. It also sent letters to President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP chief Khaleda Zia in this regard.
It describes itself as a non-political entity and has 13 members so far.
After a two-hour discussion with political scientists, media personalities, journalists, political activists, among others, the group yesterday came up with a number of recommendations, including direct election of the president with a larger electoral college and entrusting him with more power except the power to dissolve parliament.
Former TIB executive director Manzoor Hasan, former caretaker government advisers M Hafizuddin Khan and Rasheda K Chowdhury, Executive Director of Policy Research Institute Ahsan H Mansur, Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumder, eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik and local government expert Tofail Ahmed were present at the programme on behalf of the group.
The overlap of prime minister’s roles as head of the executive branch and leader of the House and also the party must come to an end, it said.
It also recommended amending article 70 of the constitution to allow floor-crossing on important policy issues with some exceptions.
Discussants suggested that appointment to key cabinet posts, including home, defence, finance and law ministries, chief justice, senior judges and independent commission chiefs be openly debated, vetted and confirmed by parliamentary standing committees concerned.
Reading out the keynote paper, Manzoor Hasan said bringing checks and balance of power between the PM and the president was a must for the sake of a functioning democracy.
ATM Shamsul Huda said no government took enough care of the country’s democratic institutions. As a result, these institutions failed to work properly as competent persons were not appointed there.
“No government has passed laws on appointing chiefs of different statuary and constitutional bodies. Instead, they appointed the people of their choice,” he added.
Under the current system, the prime minister is all too powerful while the president has no power, he added.
“What is the meaning of empowering the president to appoint the chief justice when it all depends on the will of the prime minister?” said Hafizuddin.
Eminent political scientist Rawnak Jahan thinks that first it must be made sure that the current system in different democratic institutions can work properly, before bringing any changes.
Shahdeen Malik said the post of president became useless because there was no work left for him to do except for appointing the PM and the CJ.
“But appointment in the two posts happens automatically as the chief justice will be appointed according to the seniority while the majority party in an election will select the prime minister. There isn’t much for the president to do here,” he added.
Ahsan H Mansur said that in the US, the authority thoroughly verified the past records of a person before appointing him as CJ. “Why can’t we introduce this system in our country?”

-With The Daily Star input

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