In keeping with constitutional obligations, our 12th national parliamentary election will be held by 29 January 2024. All well-meaning citizens want the forthcoming election to be free, fair and competitive. However, the prevailing political realities are hardly conducive to competitive and credible elections. Ruling Awami League and its alliance partners want the election to be held under the prevailingconstitutional provisions, that is, under a government formed by the ruling party.

BNP and the other political parties involved in the ongoing movement want the election to be held under a non-party caretaker government. The opposition political parties have already waged a one-point movement demanding the resignation of the present government. The closer the election approaches, the tension is likely to intensify. And with the programmes and counter programmes of the political parties, public suffering is mounting.

It is clear that if the political parties do not change their mind and reach an understanding soon, the situation may go out of hand resulting in serious violence. Faced with this alarming prospect, a long-term comprehensive solution must be reached soon to prevent the catastrophe. Such a solution could represent the following:

1. Change in political culture: In order to uphold the spirit and the values of our liberation war, the propensity towards vengeance must be ended and mutual respect and tolerance be restored in our politics, and inclusive politics be nurtured. Clashes on the streets must be replaced with dialogue and discussions among the stakeholders. The objective of politics must not be to achieve individual and coterie interests but public interests.

2. An effective national parliament: Transforming the Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament) into an independent and effective institution so that the transparency and accountability of the executive is ensured by restoring checks and balance. This will require the members of parliament to be involved in formulating laws and state policies rather than being involved in local development. A ‘code of conduct’ for the members of parliament must be developed, and in accordance to Article 78 of the Constitution, a ‘parliamentary privileges act' be framed to ensure punishment for 'contempt of parliament'.

3. Independent judiciary: Independence of the judiciary must be ensured by separating it from the administration and appointing appropriate persons as judges, which will pave the way toward the rule of law. A law must be enacted for appointing judges to the Supreme Court.

4. Constitutional reforms: A committee of experts must be constituted for constitutional reforms. Future amendments of the constitution must be based on their recommendations. The possible areas of constitutional amendments could be: balance of power between the president and the prime minister, a bicameral parliament, reserving one-third seats in parliament for women and ensuring direct election to the reserved seats, adopting the system of proportional representation, reforming Article 70 of the Constitution, etc.

Dialogues and discussions could held between political parties for reaching a consensus, which could be signed as a National Charter like the three-alliance’s framework of 1990

5. Democratic and transparent parties: Taking necessary measures for democratic, clean and accountable political parties; all political parties adopting democratic rules and norms in their functioning; making parties free of miscreants; and, abolishing all affiliated and associated bodies and foreign branches of political parties, per the Representation of the People Order 1972; and bringing an end to cronyism in politics. All parties must renounce extremism, communalism, identity-based hatred and use of religion in politics. A social movement must be fomented to mobilize all positive forces of the society to end mindless religious extremism and communalism.

6. Independent statutory institutions: Bringing about necessary changes to the legal framework to establish an effective Anti-Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Information Commission and to appoint neutral and independent-minded persons to these institutions.

7. An all-out anti-corruption drive: Bringing all corruption persons to justice by setting up a special tribunal (like the for war criminals) and giving exemplary punishment to the culprits as well as taking initiative to recover their ill-gotten wealth and bring back the money laundered overseas. Stopping the looting of the financial sector and reforming laws to establish discipline in the sector. Bringing deliberate loans defaulters to justice and ensuring their stern punishment. Appointing an ombudsman in keeping with Article 77 of the Constitution.

8.  Administrative reforms: Reforming laws to modernize the bureaucracy and security services and ensuring the neutrality, discipline and professionalism of the officers in the administration and the law enforcement agencies.  Bringing an end to corruption in the appointments and transfers in the administration, particularly in the law enforcement agencies, and making the Public Service Commission a neutral and effective institution.

9. Decentralisation and local government: Making the necessary changes in laws and regulations to draw up and implement a strong decentralisation policy so that the local government institutions are autonomous, free of control and effective. Based in the recommendations of the local government commission, 50 per cent of the Annual Development Programme allocation should be spent through the local government institutions and the SDG implementation must be localised through these institutions.

10. Independence of the media: In order to ensure independence of the media, appropriate legal reforms must be carried out, particularly of the Digital Security Act, 2018. An autonomous broadcast commission be set up to ensure the neutrality of the news broadcast of the state-owned media.

11. Effective civil society: Removing the obstacles to an effective and strong civil society so that, as a non-state institution, it can monitor all constitutional and statutory institutions, to pave the way toward an effective democracy and good governance. An environment conducive to the functioning of the civil society must be created by ending all forms of unwarranted interventions.

12. Protecting human rights: All repressive laws must be reformed and abolished to protect human rights, including the political and citizen rights of the people, and no new repressive law must be enacted. The culture of violating human rights must be ended by bringing an end to enforced disappearance, abduction and extrajudicial killing.

13. A new social contract: A new social contract be created to end the growing disparity in wealth and opportunities provided by the state so that the less privileged segment of the population gets their due share of state resources, quality services at affordable price and become true owners of the state. And all discrimination against the disabled and the third gender must be ended.

14. Maintain environmental sustainability: An effective plan must be drawn up and implemented to maintain biodiversity, environmental sustainability and climate change. All development projects must be evaluated to drop the projects which damage the environment.

15. Investing for the youth: Investments must be made for ensuring quality education, good heath, security, opportunity and empowering the leadership of the youth in order torealize the ‘demographic dividend’. Effective steps must be taken to enhance the quality of rural education.

Taking these above issues as a preliminary agenda, dialogues and discussions could held between political parties for reaching a consensus, which could be signed as a National Charter like the three-alliance’s framework of 1990. Once the National Charter is agreed upon and signed, the political parties must decide about a form of election-time government – be it non-party caretaker government, all party government or some other form of neutral government – to ensure free, fair and competitive elections. Holding credible elections will also require reconstituting the present Election Commission, which was appointed in violation of the relevant law. The government thus elected – elected with the consent of the people – must be responsible for implementing the National Charter to dawn a new future for Bangladesh.

* Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar is secretary, Shushoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN).                                                           

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