The Prime Minister of Bangladesh – an all out powerful person

by Nazir Ahmed
Nazir Ahmed
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on May 23 in Blog Post 0 Comments

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh is so powerful that hardly any country can be found in the world which has a Prime Minister who has so much power.

Even the British Prime Minister or the Indian Prime Minister do not enjoy such and so much power.  The current Prime Minister of Bangladesh is the Head of Government, the leader of Parliament and the Chairperson of her own party.  By being the Head of Government, she controls the entire Executive branch of the State.  Other Ministers can do little, if anything, against her will.  She is not the “first among equals” as we see in the Cabinet of the British parliamentary system.  

 
She is so powerful that the entire Cabinet, including heads of three armed forces, is required to be present at the airport during her departure from, and return to, Bangladesh!  By being the leader of Parliament, she - through Whips, Article 70 and because of absolute parliamentary majority – controls the entire legislature.  No Minister or Member of Parliament (MP) can go beyond her wish, control or radar.  Through the advice she gives and recommendation she makes to the President, she controls the entire Apex Judiciary.  Upsetting her and her government means Judges in the Apex Court would be superseded when it comes to elevation - as we have routinely seen some.  
 
Unnecessary presence at the time of Prime Minister’s departure and arrival
As mentioned above, when the Prime Minister of Bangladesh leaves the country for abroad, or returns from abroad, the whole Cabinet including the three Chiefs of the armed forces is required to be present at the airport to see her off or receive her.  This has been a custom and convention going on for a long period of time, probably since the independence of Bangladesh.  This is a very bad and absolutely unnecessary custom and convention.  Why do they all need to go to the airport to see the Prime Minister off or welcome her on her return?  What benefit and advantage do these arrangements give to the nation?  
 
In fact, such arrangements cause severe inconvenience to the people of Dhaka, cost huge amounts of public money and waste valuable time which could have been used in a productive way.  All members of the Cabinet (along with the three Chiefs) have very important jobs to do, but they are required to attend the airport, leaving all those tasks behind.  This causes the routine and urgent work of the Ministries and Departments concerned to grind to a standstill, or at least suffer delays.  Because all these Very Important Persons (VIPs) are rushing towards the airport at almost the same time, the already chaotic traffic situation of the streets of the capital becomes worse.  
 
We have seen and observed closely the departing and arriving moments of the Prime Minister and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the UK and the President of the USA.  None of them has ever required the presence of the entire Cabinet at the airport at the time of their departure or arrival.  Why does the Prime Minister of our country need such an awkward arrangement?  Have they become more dignified or honoured than the President and Prime Minister of the most powerful countries of the world?  Such nonsensical arrangements involving unnecessary waste of public money, valuable time and severe inconvenience to the general people of the capital should be stopped.

Mixing the role of a party leader with the duties of the Prime Minister
On Wednesday, 9th October 2013, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed a view exchange meeting with grassroots level workers and leaders of eight organisational districts of her own party, Bangladesh Awwami League (BAL), at her official residence, Ganobhaban.  Senior leaders of her party were present while she was addressing.  This is not the first time she has addressed in such a way.  In the last five and half years she has addressed party members on numerous occasions in this way.  Sheikh Hasina is the Chairperson of her own party as well as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.  However, her first and foremost identity since she took charge as the Prime Minister is that she is the Prime Minister of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.  The Ganobhaban is the Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic, not her party Office.  She has mixed up and confused the roles and activities of a party leader with those of a Prime Minister, whereas it is the interest of the country that they should be performed separately. 
 
She could have held her political meetings at her party office, or at different venues.  The Prime Minister represents the country, while a party leader represents the party he or she belongs to.  All BAL’s workers and leaders are, no doubt, citizens of Bangladesh, but it is not the case that all citizens of Bangladesh belong to the BAL.  The nation expects the Prime Minister to be discharging publicly the governmental activities and official duties, from the Prime Minister’s Office – not using it to perform party political duties and activities.  She has set bad a precedent.  Future Prime Ministers from other party or parties will do the same as she had done.  How will she and her party feel then?  We have never seen any British Prime Minister holding his or her political party meetings at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister.      
 
Bangladesh Prime Minister, Constitution and British tradition
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her colleagues often give examples of British democracy.  Most recently in a meeting she said that she was trying to establish a system similar to the British parliamentary model in the country.  Do they really know how democracy works in the United Kingdom?  If they know, are they really willing or able to follow the British democratic norms and values?  In spite of clear constitutional provisions, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her colleagues have, from time to time, been interpreting the Constitution according to their own wishes, desires and narrow political interests.  
 
By comparison, the United Kingdom does not have a written Constitution.  For political matters, the most important source of the British Constitution is the long established conventions and customs.  Politicians in general and the government of the day in particular strictly observe those long standing customs and conventions.  A slight derailment from the convention is a good ground for reshuffle or resignation.  In the United Kingdom, general elections have never been held without dissolving Parliament.  
 
When Parliament is dissolved, every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant.  MPs immediately revert to being members of the general public and lose all the privileges associated with being a Member of Parliament.  They are allowed access to Parliament for just a few days in which to remove papers and equipment from their offices.  All facilities and services for MPs at Westminster are closed at 5pm on the day of dissolution.  Until a new Parliament is elected, MPs do not exist. Those who wish to re-apply must stand again for election as candidates in their constituencies.  This convention has been followed not only decade after decade but for century after century!  Has the Prime Minister of Bangladesh followed the slightest degree of those healthy conventions and customs before the last election?
 
Conclusion
The Bangladeshi Constitution has vested so much power in the hands of the Prime Minister that it effectively made her a dictator.  Lord Hailsham invented the term “elective dictator” in relation to some British Prime Ministers.  But the British Prime Ministers cannot, in practice, be dictators due to various checks and balances which have gradually emerged and developed over the last centuries.  The constitutional provisions giving wide and arbitrary power, the absence of proper democracy and lack of proper check and balance have made the Bangladeshi Prime Minister an elective dictator in real sense. 
 
Power usually corrupts people.  Lord Acton said “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Echoing this, it can be said that power can turn a Prime Minister into a dictator, and absolute power can make him or her an absolute dictator.  Enjoying such wide and arbitrary power by the Prime Minister is neither good for the country nor healthy for democracy.  By comparison, the President of Bangladesh has almost no power.  He is the ceremonial Head of the State.  He is managed, guided and controlled by the governing party, more specifically by the Prime Minister.  There should have been a concrete balance of power between the Prime Minister and the President.  The President needed some specific written residual power so that he could play an effective role during a national crisis.
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