Govt’s latest 15th amendment rationale sounds tenuous too
OF LATE, the key functionaries of the Awami League-led government have appeared at pains to come up with a justification for the 15th amendment to the constitution that would have some traction in society at large. The reason is not so subtle; there seem to be increasingly fewer takers of the rationales that they have let fly thus far — the changes are aimed at pre-empting intervention in the political process by undemocratic and unconstitutional forces, upholding constitutionality, consolidating democracy, so on and so forth. Regrettably, however, their apparent desperation has led to some arguments that seem more tenuous than the ones already in circulation.
For example, the prime minister, according to a report published in New Age on Monday, suggested that people had given them ‘the chance with a three-fourths majority in parliament to change the constitutional provisions that martial law ordinances had introduced.’ Maybe, although there are speculations that the military-controlled interim regime had helped the AL-led alliance to register a resounding electoral victory to have their illegal and unconstitutional actions ratified. However, the provision at the core of the ongoing political impasse, i.e. an election-time non-party government to preside over the general elections, was not inserted in the constitution through any martial law ordinances. On the contrary, the Awami League had actually forced its incorporation through vigorous and violent street agitations in the 1996.
Moreover, in their bid to supposedly restore the original constitution, the incumbents retained two factors that robbed the constitution of its secular-democratic character in the first place — insertion of Bismillah in the preamble and recognition of Islam as the religion of the state and thus endorsed the workings of the Zia and Ershad regimes for political convenience. To make matters worse, the 15th amendment essentially turned Bangladesh into a state of the Bengali Muslims, making people of other faiths and ethnicities who have lived in this part of the world for centuries through generations virtually second-class citizens.
Furthermore, the 15th amendment has made certain provisions unchangeable, an act, which, by itself, is an anathema to constitutionalism, to which the incumbents claim to be committed to. After all, the constitution is the solemn expression of the will of the people and is thus liable to change with the change of people’s needs and demands. Ironically still, the 15th amendment revoked the provision for referendum that guaranteed direct control of the people on the constitution.
Last but not least, the incumbents themselves do not seem to believe that the 15th amendment has closed the door, once and for all, for undemocratic forces to take over state power. After all, on more occasions than one, the prime minister has herself said machinations were under way for intervention in the political process by unconstitutional and undemocratic forces.
The more the incumbents try to justify the 15th amendment and the more arguments they come up with, the more reinforced the suspicion apparently gets in society that it may have been ultimately aimed at incorporating the AL politics into the constitution of the state, securing the partisan and even personal privileges of the ruling quarters and, most importantly, ensuring their control over the electoral process that changes guards.
As indicated, the incumbents seem to have realised that their arguments and justifications have increasingly less traction in society at large. Such realisation by the incumbents seems encouraging; after all, it may lead them to refrain from weaving more tenuous arguments and justifications, try in earnest to bring the opposition across the table and work out a negotiated resolution of the political impasse. One hopes that reason will dawn on the incumbents — sooner rather than later.
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