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Parliamentary democracy still far away: TIB

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Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has said the expectations raised by the restoration of parliamentary form of government in the wake of anti-Ershad movement have remained far from fully realised."Ironically enough, as if to chop off the head for headache, the 10th parliament has been transformed into a House without an opposition bench in true sense of the term," TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman told Dhaka Courier, a sister concern of UNB.Notwithstanding its constitutional and legal correctness, a politically and morally tormented parliament already appears to have lost a few opportunities, he said. Dr Zaman said, the party (Jatiya Party) that is claiming to be the main opposition party in Parliament has a crisis of self-identity."Its chief being a special envoy to the Prime Minister and a number of its other leaders being in the cabinet the so-called opposition party is in an uphill task of demonstrating that it can play the dual role," he said.Be that as it may, Dr Zaman said, there is no denying that conventional institutional structure and capacity of the 10th parliament to deliver its key function of holding the government to account has been exposed to graver challenge than ever.Notwithstanding a sound constitutional and legal footing for an effective parliamentary form of government, confrontational politics of a zero-sum game has over the years undermined parliamentary culture and practice to an extent that parliament becomes a monopolised terrain of the ruling party or coalition, the TIB chief observed.He said Parliament has kept up the good example of forming all the standing committees in the very first session as in the 9th parliament though in the 8th parliament it took nearly a year and a half to form the committees."However, it has failed to go far enough as none of the committees has a chairperson from the opposition, nor did the ruling party take the opportunity to elect the deputy speaker from the opposition," said the TIB chief.Another intrinsic weakness of the committees will be the conflict of interest in many committees, especially when it comes to certain committees that are headed by former ministers of the same ministry, he said."Given some degree of political will and commitment of Members of the Parliament across the spectrum, there may still be some opportunities," said the TIB chief.He also said much would depend on the extent the same principle will be applicable for the ruling party MPs as being proposed and expected of the so-called loyal opposition, namely, the extent to which they can be critical of the government in spite of belonging to the ruling party, and therefore try to hold the government to account on the floor of the House and in the committees.The culture of boycott of parliament by the opposition that started from the 5th parliament (1991-96) continued through the 9th.The rate of boycott rose from one-third of total working hours in the House in the 5th to over 81 percent in the 9th, according to the TIB.This practice of deliberately staying away from entrusted responsibility of law makers persisted in such a blatant manner that the leader of the opposition of the 9th parliament attended the House only on 10 occasions, in other words delivered less than 3 percent of the benefits and privileges enjoyed.

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