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The Daily Star

July 20, 2004

Summary: 45 seats in the Bangladesh Parliament reserved for women elected using choice voting are being challenged as unconstitutional because of sexual discrimination.

The Daily Star
Women's Reserved JS Seats Challenged; HC Bench May Hear Petition Against 14th Amendment Today
July 20, 2004

Opposition political parties and civil society members filed a writ petition with the High Court against the government, the speaker and the Election Commission yesterday, challenging the new constitutional provision of 45 reserved seats for women in parliament.

The petition said the 14th amendment to the constitution, which parliament passed on May 16 introducing 45 reserved seats in the House for women, goes against the fundamentals of the constitution.

It also termed the new provision contradictory to the fundamental principles of the national policy for the development of women.

The High Court division bench of Justice MA Matin and Justice Tarik-Ul-Hakim is likely to hear the petition today.

The petitioners are Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman for the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dr Anisuzzaman, educationalist, two Awami League lawmakers Advocate Rahmat Ali and Asaduzzaman Noor, Jatiya Party lawmaker Anwar Hossain Manju, Hasanul Haque Inu, president of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD-Inu), Fazle Hossain Badsha of the Workers Party, Ayesha Khanam, general secretary of Mahila Parshad, Prof Jahanara Haque of Women for Women, Shireen Akhter of JSD, Rekha Chowdhury of Mahila Parishad, Mahbuba Begum, executive director, BAWSE, Rekha Saha, coordinator of Steps Towards Development, Farida Khanam of Mahila Muktijoddha Sangsad and Advocate Momtaz Begum.

Eight women-rights activists on June 20 filed almost a similar petition and obtained a court ruling that asked the respondents why the provision of women's reserved seats in parliament should not be declared unconstitutional. The matter is now pending with the court.

The petitioners said the provision of 45 seats is absolutely absurd and unworkable and it cannot be implemented because 300 constituencies are not divisible by the number.

They said previously the number of reserved seats was initially 15 and later it was increased to 30 and both these figures are factors of 300 general seats. The reserved seats for women in the past had corresponding constituencies, which is absent in the present provision.

The petition moved by Barrister Tania Amir said women for these 45 reserved seats are to be indirectly elected by members from 300 general seats according to proportional representation in parliament through a single transferable vote.

In other words, under the new system, every political party or a group of MPs that commands at least 6.67 (300 divided by 45) seats will proportionately be entitled to one woman MP from the reserved seats.

This will lead to discrimination against smaller political parties having fewer than 6.67 seats or independent lawmakers as much as they will not have a representation through a woman MP, which is incongruous with Article 27 of the constitution.

The petitioners also said the constitution allows a woman to become legislator but the new provision bars her from becoming lawmaker unless she belongs to a political party.

The petitioners, apart from being eminent persons in their individual capacity, also collectively represent a cross-section of society aggrieved by the amendment. They cited no fewer than 14 legal and moral grounds against the incorporation of the provision allowing indirect election of women to parliament through the reserve seats.

The provision for reserved seats will be effective for 10 years from the first sitting of the next parliament.

The incumbent parliament will also have reserved seats as the 14th amendment inserted a sub-article in the fourth schedule of the constitution to this effect. However, election to the reserved seats is yet to be held, as the government has not enacted the law.

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