The parliamentary special committee on constitutional amendments agreed in principle to propose increasing reserved seats for women in the House but it is facing difficulties to introduce direct election to the seats preserved.

Members of the committee yesterday in a meeting at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban discussed two propositions for increasing the number of reserved seats for women.

Some of the members said the reserved seats could be increased to 60 from 45 for the next 15 years with the existing indirect election system in place.

The second proposition is for increasing the reserved seats to 100 with direct election to those seats, allowing voters to elect them, several members of the committee told The Daily Star after the meeting.

“Members of the committee agreed to increase the number of the reserved seats. We are discussing how to introduce direct election by increasing the seats to 100,” Abdul Matin Khasru, a member of the committee, told The Daily Star.

He cited the ruling Awami League’s electoral pledge to increase the reserved seats for women to 100 with direct election.

The committee members at yesterday’s meeting found it very difficult to introduce direct election to the seats for women.

On condition of anonymity a member of the committee said Article-65 (2) of the constitution bars double representation as it says parliament shall consist of 300 members to be elected in accordance with law from single territorial constituencies through direct election.

He said if direct election to reserved seats is introduced, the constituencies shall be demarcated countrywide.

If 100 constituencies are to be demarcated for reserved seats, then the present 300 constituencies will be divided by 100 reserved seats. In that case, a candidate to the reserved seat will have to handle a large number of voters of three constituencies.

Besides, two MPs will represent a constituency, which may contradict with the constitutional provision for single territorial constituencies, the member said.

“Considering the difficulties, we may opt for increasing the number of reserved seats to 60 from 45 with indirect election,” he said.

Now 45 MPs are elected indirectly by lawmakers who are elected to 300 constituencies across the country. The MPs elected to reserved seats do not have any constituency.

“Some members of the committee, however, want to introduce direct election to reserved seats. So, we are searching ways to make it possible,” Matin Khasru, also former law minister, said.

He said they will consult the prime minister to finalise the proposal about the reserved seats.

The reserved seat for women in parliament was introduced in 1972 with the framing the country’s constitution in the same year. At that time, 10 seats were kept reserved for women for next 10 years.

The military ruler Gen Ziaur Rahman in 1978 increased the seats to 15 from 10 and increased its duration to 15 years from 10 years by amending the constitution through a martial law proclamation.

The fourth parliament constituted in 1988 began its journey without reserved seats as the tenure for the seats expired in 1987. Later in 1990, the fourth parliament increased the reserved seats to 30 for the next 10 years.

The eighth parliament increased the numbers to 45 for the next 10 years by passing the constitution’s 14th amendment act in 2005.

TECHNOCRAT MINISTERS

The special committee at yesterday’s meeting also discussed to restore the original Article-56 of the 1972 constitution to discourage appointing technocrat ministers, meeting sources said.

According to the original article, if anybody, who is not an MP, was appointed as a member of the council of ministers, he or she has to be elected a member of parliament in next six months to remain in the office.

The spirit of the article was that the country would be ruled by only elected people.

But later, amendments to the constitution empowered the prime minister to appoint one-tenth of the number of the members of the council of ministers from people qualified for election as MPs. And once appointed, he or she can continue office as long as the premier wants.

The meeting also discussed Article-70, which is blamed for imposing stringent restrictions on MPs in parliament preventing them from playing their due role independently, and Article-78, which deals with privileges and immunities of parliament and lawmakers.

Asked about the committee’s discussion, Suranjit Sengupta, co-chair and spokesman of the special committee, said he would disclose the contents of the discussion today in a press briefing. The committee sits again today.

Source: The Daily Star –  06.04.2010