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Democracy -- a many splendoured thing

  • Published at 12:00 am January 10th, 2019
An opposition is needed SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

There’s hope for the unicameral parliament we have

The three major democracies in the world have one thing in common -- a bicameral parliament. 

It can be argued that the British House of Lords is a waste of time given, it has little or no influence on the House of Commons, lost over a period of time. Similar is the Rajya Sabha over the Lok Sabha in India. 

It’s in the United States where the House of Representatives and the Senate have distinctive roles that have a bearing in the president’s ability to govern much the way he wants. 

In the next two years, Donald Trump will be locked in a bruising battle that promises to be fun. 

Already the two -- the president and the House of Representatives -- are at a stand-off over budgetary allocation that has effectively shut down parts of the government with the 800,000-strong workforce wondering where their next paycheck will come from. 

With Congress refusing to fork out $5 billion for the Mexico wall, such an important element to Trump’s presidential campaign, matters are at an extreme unrest. When this piece was penned, the “no pay” was effective for 13 days. While it cannot continue, it is unclear which side will blink first.

Congress has powers to pass laws, though these may be rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate, but it has powers to set up committees to probe into almost all sectors of the country, including a threatened one into the Trump Trust that was recently closed down by the courts in the US.

It’s not full check and balance, but there are significant controls that can be overruled by the presidential veto, a weapon that is sparingly used so as to maintain its sanctity.

Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal had called for bicameral houses, but it never became a party with strong enough leadership or grassroots support to force the issue. They too sought a balance of power between parliament and another house. 

The concerns with the brute majority that Awami League now enjoys is that there isn’t a strong opposition to keep them in line. Oikya Front won’t be joining parliament, and Jatiya Party won’t be averse to joining the government if invited, though that is yet to be decided.

This is where the standing committee, somewhat like the House of Representatives, can play a significant role in calling misdemeanours to the task that aren’t always debated in parliament.

The debates usually lack conviction, and hardly ever do opposition calls for changes to bills ever get listened to by the ruling party. But given there is accountability to the standing committee, there’s hope yet in the unicameral parliament that we have. 

Given that laws are hardly ever circulated for public opinion, it could be the only option available. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist. He can be reached at [email protected]