Article 70 Of Bangladesh’s Constitution: Why Does This Provision Need To Be Amended? – OpEd
By Md. Obaidullah and Md Sohrab Hossen
The Constitution of Bangladesh, officially the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, is the supreme law of Bangladesh. Following Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan on December 16, 1971, the constitution was approved by the country’s Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1972, and it went into force on December 16 of the same year. The constitution establishes the foundation for the Bangladeshi republic, which includes a unitary, parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, a democratic local government, and a national bureaucracy.
The Constitution has a total of 153 Articles arranged under eleven parts. The constitution has some highly controversial mandates that need to be reformed. These mandates sometimes contradict the other articles of the constitution itself. Article 70, an anti-floor-crossing provision, is one of them. It was added to the 1972 edition of the Constitution. As a controversial provision in Bangladesh’s Constitution, Article 70 limits the right to vote in the country’s parliament.
Article 70 of the constitution of Bangladesh:
A person elected as a member of Parliament at an election at which he was nominated as a candidate by a political party shall vacate his seat if he –
(a) resigns from that party; or
(b) votes in Parliament against that party but shall not thereby be disqualified for subsequent election as a member of Parliament.
The provision has the consequence of banning free votes and floor crossing by lawmakers. MPs automatically lose their positions if they cast a vote opposing their party in the parliament session. Though some experts argue that it has some advantages; however, in our opinion, the drawbacks are more significant than the positive aspects.
Why should this article be reformed?
To begin, because of Article 70, the majority of the time, the parliament of Bangladesh has merely acted as a formality for the measures performed by the party or coalition that is now in power. This article restrains the lawmakers. It has put them under strict control. Parliamentarians are not permitted to take a stance on any issue that differs from that of their party. Even if the party’s position in parliament is erroneous, they are not free to dispute it. They are not allowed to vote against their party’s choice. Hence, Parliamentarians are unable to make rational decisions. In the clutches of their political party’s high command, they are, in fact, captives.
Moreover, article 70 goes against fundamental constitutional rights like freedom of expression and conscience since the basic right to liberty of thought, conscience, and expression is guaranteed by Article 39 of the Bangladesh constitution.
Nevertheless, MPs should have the same voting rights as ordinary citizens, as voting rights are similar to freedom of thought, conscience, and expression. Thus, Article 70 is deemed incompatible with MPs’ fundamental rights, notably personal liberty, freedom of association, thought and conscience, and freedom of expression.
Those who favour this article say- to ensure stability and strengthen parliamentary democracy, it is necessary. We would definitely argue against that. In Parliamentary democracy, citizens elect representatives to a legislative parliament to make the necessary laws and decisions for the country. This parliament directly represents the people, and MPs are accountable to the mass people through the legislative body, but not to the MPs’ political party. The cabinet is collectively accountable to the parliament, according to Article 55 of the Bangladesh constitution. So, when voting for a bill, as the MPs represent the people of their constituencies, it should be their responsibility to express their views by voting on the bill. One size fits for all theory does not really go in terms of a developing country. So, when making a law, it should be represented by all classes of people, not only by what the party wants. For example, the economic condition of every part of a country may not be the same. So, an MP should not vote for such a taxation bill that is inappropriate for the people of his/her constituencies. Otherwise, what is the meaning of having a parliamentary democracy?
They also say that more than 40 democratic countries have anti-floor-crossing provisions. And Anti-floor crossing provision is needed to sustain the stability and smooth functioning of the government. It is necessary for an effective, stable and healthy government. Our point of argument would be here: it is the same logic as dictators say that they want stability in the government. But what do we want, a so-called stable state with autocracy or democracy where people can express their voices and needs? Also, it should be noted that the Anti-floor crossing provision is not found in the tested democracies like the U.S.A., Germany, Canada, France and the U.K. So, shall we follow such a rule only because it is found in new democracies‟ like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on? The previously mentioned 40 countries fall into this category. Besides, shall we not follow the best practice rather than following the majority?
In our opinion, Article 70 promotes autocratic control while restricting democratic practice. Hence, Bangladesh should pay heed to reform this article immediately. As reforming this article would require political will and strength, the present ruling party in Bangladesh seems to have that capacity, as they are ruling the country for three consecutive terms. So, the party should take the initiative to reform the article as it would increase people’s participation in parliament in a true sense and set a positive image of the country to the world.
*About the authors:
- Md Obaidullah holds a degree in Public Administration from the University of Barishal, Bangladesh. Currently, he is working as a Research Assistant at the Centre for Advanced Social Research, Dhaka. He regularly writes on the topics of Public Policy, Politics and Governance, Sustainable Development, and International Relations.
- Md Sohrab Hossen holds a BSS degree in Public Administration from the University of Barisal, Bangladesh, and pursuing an MSS degree in Public Administration at the same university. In addition, currently, he works as a Senior Research Assistant at BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University. He is interested in the issues of politics, governance, and public policy.