Holding opposition back in Parliament

Mostafa Kamal MajumderThe main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has announced its decision to join the budget session of Parliament beginning on June 3. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged the opposition not to boycott Parliament after joining the same and, instead, take part in discussion on budget. Quoting from newspaper reports the premier has said that perhaps they are joining to protect their membership only.BNP’s standing Committee member Barrister Moudud Ahmed who made the disclosure about BNP’s joining the session has said they would do so ‘for the sake of the people and our own needs.’ About how long they would continue to be in the session he said, it would depend on dealings of the government.

Parliament boycott has unfortunately turned into a fashion. Members of Parliament enjoy all the privileges, pay and perks associated with the same but continue to abstain from session. The Parliament secretariat has been quoted to have said that the abstention from session by BNP MPs has totaled 83 days. As per provisions of the constitution a member loses his seat for unauthorised absense for 90 consecutive session days.

Available statistics show that the opposition has remained absent for a record 315 days in the present 9th Parliament. The precedent however was set in the very fifth Parliament elected after the restoration of democracy in 1991. In that Parliament Awami League lawmakers, then in the opposition, had skipped 135 of 265 working days between 1991 and 1995.
In the seventh Parliament BNP lawmakers did abstain from 163 out of the 219 working days. In the eight Parliament, opposition Awami League MPs remained absent on 223 of the 373 days.

Parliament members enjoy not only salary, constituency allowance and residential accommodation in the city, but are also entitled to duty-free import of luxury cars every time they are elected. MPs also come before many others in the order of precedence and are privileged beneficiaries of all government-run services.

According to reports last time the BNP had joined the proceedings on March 24 in 2011 after a long period of absence and walked out after a while. In the preceding year they had taken part in the discussion on the President’s annual inaugural speech. They had boycotted that session on the allegation of partisan treatment by the Speaker.

In that session Jatiya Sangsad on witnessed attacks by lawmakers, mainly from the opposition women seats, with the treasury benchers lodging protests with the then speaker Abdul Hamid who called the entire episode ‘shameful’. The speaker switched off the microphone of a female lawmaker of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and beat the hammer to restore order in the house.
‘Under no circumstances … ugly words should be used in Parliament. Use decent language,’ the speaker said when he switched off the microphone of BNP lawmaker Syeda Asifa Ashrafi Papia who in her discussion on the vote of thanks launched attacks on then president Zillur Rahman, prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her son Sajib Wazed Joy. Referring to similar statements made in the House on the day before, Hamid said use of offensive words was shameful for Parliament, the treasury as well as the opposition benches.

We would want to say that such verbal fights are far better than street agitations which again are met with the police committing excesses. Many parliaments in the rest of Asia, including India, Japan and South Korea have witnessed MPs even having scuffles. Things eased when tension was brought under control.

While urging the opposition to fight bitterly inside Parliament, we would also draw the attention of the new Speaker to the fact that while the government’s majority always prevails and seals the fate of bills or motions that are passed most often disregarding opposition suggestions; opposition in all Parliaments takes most of the talk time during sessions. Giving floor to the opposition as and when so demanded can be an incentive to retain them in the session.

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