‘Time for reforms to democratise constitution, elections’

Published: 16:04, Oct 31,2018


Dr Kamal Hossain

The government and opposition political parties should engage in serious discussions now to bring about reforms in the constitution to democratise the charter, National Unity Front leader Dr Kamal Hossain tells Shahidul Islam Chowdhury in an interview with New Age

New Age: What is the principal crisis of democracy in Bangladesh?

Kamal Hossain: The principal crisis of democracy here is the difficulties caused by weak law enforcement, breaches of the electoral laws with impunity and the induction of a large amount of mostly undisclosed money to influence different aspects of elections, especially the nomination. As for nomination, money has become part of the process.

New Age: Do you think that the next general elections are going to be inclusive, with all political parties actively taking part? What are the prime conditions for making elections inclusive?

Kamal Hossain: It is very difficult to say although that is what everyone hopes. It has become a popular demand as well. This is also an expectation of the other countries that have commented on our elections. So, we can only hope that it will be so.

The electoral laws should make it possible to engage all concerned in elections without facing obstacles.

New Age: Do you think that there would be a violence-free environment in and around polling stations, enabling voters to exercise their right to franchise freely? What are the conditions to create a congenial political atmosphere in which people would feel free to vote for candidates of their choice?

Kamal Hossain: I sincerely hope that it so happens. The law and the constitution should be enforced to enable voters to freely exercise their right to franchise.

It is also a popular demand. But to what extent it would so happen depends on how effectively the government and the Election Commission would discharge their constitutional responsibilities to ensure a safe environment.

The government should not take any repressive measure against political parties. There have already been demands for the release of political prisoners. The government should also not use money, muscle and its executive power to influence the elections.

New Age: Elections are, indeed, primary conditions for democracy. What, in your view, are the other factors that make democratic practice meaningful?

Kamal Hossain: Democratic practice can be meaningful if political parties are allowed to carry out their activities without undue restrictions. There should be no repressive measures against political parties. Constitutional guarantees for political parties should be honoured. An effective control of the ruling party by the Election Commission is also important so that it does not violate electoral laws with impunity.

New Age: Bangladesh’s constitution allows ‘electoral autocracy’ in that it provides the scope for a single person to head the state’s executive as well as legislative branches, leaving scope to influence the judiciary. Don’t you think that just credible elections are not enough, under such constitutional regime, to move towards democratic governance?

Kamal Hossain: These suggestions have been made from [different] quarters that we need to have constitutional reform and I think the time is now. This is the high time we [government and the opposition political parties] engage in serious discussions on constitutional reform.

New Age: What kind of constitutional reforms would you propose to democratise the state’s constitution and governance?

Kamal Hossain: An effective control of the government needs to be established so that it cannot exercise undue authority to favour the ruling party and to restrict activities of other political parties. It is also necessary to ensure that political parties and their leaders and activists are not subjected to persecution and discrimination.

New Age: Successive governments — elected, half-elected or unelected — have always been busy making all kinds of efforts, legal and extralegal, to make people accountable to the state and the government. How could the state and the governments be made accountable to people?

Kamal Hossain: Not only by making laws that could ensure their accountability to the people, but also by fair and effective enforcement of the laws. We have noticed that there are many such laws but they are, in fact, not properly enforced.

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