Election to reserved seats for women to be indirect
AL deputies walk out as House passes bill

Published November 30th 2004 in The Daily Star
The Jatiya Sangsad yesterday passed a bill for election to the 45 reserved seats for women in parliament on the basis of proportional representation of parties or alliances amid strong protest and a noisy walkout by the main opposition Awami League (AL) lawmakers.

The AL legislators and a lawmaker of Jatiya Party ( JP-Ershad) termed election to the reserved seats based on proportional representation as unconstitutional and a disgrace to the women community.

Law Minister Moudud Ahmed defended the bill saying it has fulfilled the long awaited representation of women in the House.

Moudud introduced the Jatiya Sangsad (Reserved Women Seats) Election Bill, 2004, outlining a complex procedure of election to the reserved seats in accordance with proportional representation of a party or alliance in the House.

Vehemently opposing the bill, the opposition members demanded direct election to the women's seats according the election commitments of all political parties, including the ruling BNP, and the demand of all women's bodies.

The opposition members said the method of allocating 45 reserved seats among the political parties and alliances as contained in the bill is very a complex and impractical one.

A L members Abdur Razzak, Suranjit Sengupta, Mohammad Nasim, Rahmat Ali, AKM Jahangir, Dr Abdur Razzak, Shahjahan Khan, Atiur Rahman Atique and Panchanan Biswas, and GM Quader of the JP (Ershad) took part in the discussion.

Except GM Quader, other la wmakers of the JP supported the bill.

The AL lawmakers before their walkout also demanded of the government to withhold the passage of the bill until the High Court disposes of two writ petitions relating to the 14th amendment to the constitution, which provided for the 45 reserved seats for women.

The main opposition lawmakers demanded a statement from the prime minister on their demands and left the House as the PM did not respond.

The 14th amendment to the constitution was passed on May 16. Women's rights activists and civil society members filed two writ petitions with the High Court challenging the provision of 45 reserved seats, and the court issued show cause notices on the government. The matter is now pending with the court.

Earlier, there were 30 reserved seats for women, but the constitutional provision expired with the dissolution of last parliament in July 2001.

With the passage of the Jatiya Sangsad (Reserved Women Seats) Election Bill, 2004 yesterday, the women members will be elected within 90 days of publication of official results of a general election. But in case of the present parliament, the election will be held within 45 days of the passage of the bill. The provision will be valid for the next two parliaments.

As per the new bill, there will be no constituency for the women's reserve seats. After the election to 300 general seats, the election to women's seats will take place, and the parties represented in parliament will nominate women members proportionately.

According to a rough estimate of representation of lawmakers of different parties in the current parliament, the ruling BNP will get 29 seats, the AL 9, Jamaat-e-Islami 3, JP (Ershad) 2 and others 2 seats.

Moudud told the House the government is committed to ensuring empowerment of women and introduced the women's reserve seats keeping the previous provision of indirect election as the demand for direct polls is not realistic in the present perspective.

Senior AL lawmaker Suranjit Sengupta said the BNP has failed to fulfil its electoral pledge to hold direct election to the reserved women's seats.

The provision to select women lawmakers will destroy democracy and harm women empowerment, he said. Women's organisations as well as the people demand direct election to the reserved seats, he stressed.

Abdur Razzak labelled the system of election to the reserved seats as discrimination against women. The passage of the bill may lead to a conflict between the court and parliament as the court is yet to dispose of two petitions on the matter.

Mohammad Nasim urged the government to withdraw the bill for reaching a consensus of all parties on the reserved seats.

Responding to the opposition criticism, the law minister said the system of election system to the reserve seats is not in contrary to constitutional provisions, and it is very much in conformity with the constitution.

On the writ petitions, he said, "The court will take decision as per law. And parliament will also go by its law".

Parliament yesterday also passed three other bills: The Transfer of Property Amendment Bill, The Specific relief Amendment Bill and The Limitation Amendment Bill. The bills were not passed on Monday due to lack of quorum in the House.

The Speaker adjourned the House session till 4:15 pm today.

Lawmakers of the JP (Ershad) got divided on the election to women's reserve seats as GM Quader strongly protested the system. The others supported it.

GM Quader said distribution of women seats according to representation of the parties in the House will not help empowerment of women. He demanded of the government to withdraw the bill and introduce direct election to the seats.

But JP lawmakers including Moshiur Rahman Ranga, Golam Habib Dulaland Mohammad Ali Sarker supported the bill and refrained from giving amendment notices and or eliciting public opinion on the bill.