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The Daily Star, Bangladesh

January 17, 2004

All-party consensus needed to increase parliament seats
January 17, 2004

Leading academics, professionals and civil society members have expressed the view that the ruling four-party alliance should have taken the decision to increase the Jatiya Sangsad seats on the basis of discussion with all political parties.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, they observed that the unilateral decision to raise the number of parliamentary constituencies would widen the gap between the ruling and opposition parties and put additional burden on the public exchequer.

"It is not right on the part of the government to take a unilateral decision on raising parliamentary constituencies as it requires constitutional amendment," said Professor Mozaffar Ahmed, member of the trustee board of Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB).

The government should first decide the number of people to be represented by a member of parliament in the light of growing population, he said.

"A referendum should be held before increasing the constituencies and we also need to consider a bicameral parliament as the existing system is not functioning up to people's expectation," Mozaffar Ahmed said. All these things should be considered before bringing any amendment to the constitution, he added.

About proportional representation of political parties to the reserved seats for women, he said, "Proportional representation is not bad if it is implemented properly but democracy always encourages direct election."

University Grants Commission (UGC) Professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury pointed out that the ruling alliance and the opposition usually do not sit in the parliament at a time. So, mere increase of constituencies will hardly improve the existing parliamentary culture.

It is not only an unnecessary but also a wasteful exercise as people will have to bear the expenses for more MPs, he said.

Professor Chowdhury suggested direct election to the reserved seats for women in parliament.

Former vice chancellor of Dhaka University Prof Muniruzzaman Mia said, " Increasing the constituencies is definitely going to put an extra burden on the public exchequer."

He went on, "Since the number of parliament members will be larger, they may be more accessible to people and can serve people better if they so desire."

He suggested a national debate on the issue before taking a final decision on it.

President of Dhaka University Teacher's Association ( DUTA) Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique said as population has increased over the years, parliament seats need to be increased.

"But the way the ruling alliance has taken the decision is not proper as the opposition parties were not consulted," he said.

The decision to fix the number of constituencies should be based on the size of population or area, he said. So, raising their number to 450 from the existing 300 is not a well considered decision, the DUTA president said.

The opposition parties must be involved in the process, he felt.

On women's reserved seats, he said democracy always encourages direct election.

Barrister Tania Amir said parliamentary constituencies should not increased arbitrarily, rather it should be based on some criteria, especially the size of population.

She favoured direct election to women's reserved seats. In indirect election, party loyalists, not deserving candidates, get elected, she noted.

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