Enacting Law to Regulate Hartal

Enacting Law to Regulate Hartal

The culture of frequent hartals is coming back to Bangladesh, which is damaging for the economy, the country’s image, and a disincentive for foreign investments. A UNDP study estimates that it costs about 1% of GDP for every three days of hartal. Frequent hartals can seriously impact our export and can jeopardize our growing benefits from economic globalization. The business community through FBCCI expressed serious concern about frequent hartals. Political stability and harmony instead of hartal is extremely important for our economic progress right now.

In that context, there is a proposal for enacting a law to ban hartal. Since avoiding hartals though consensus among political parties is unlikely, a carefully designed legal measure may be a possibility. A complete ban on hartal is not possible because hartal without violence is a democratic right. Moreover, a ban on hartal will be convenient only for the government and unfair to the opposition. To understand why hartal is a part of our politics and the risks of banning it, we have to recognize both costs and benefits of it. It not only has negative impacts but also has positive contributions that shaped up the history of our nation. Starting from our struggle against the colonial rule, the movement for the independence and during our struggle for democracy, hartals played a vital role. Since hartal has proved to be such an effective tool for materializing public demands in our country, we need to keep legal provisions for it. If an anarchist or a dictator ever comes to power and threaten our constitution or our democracy, we should be able to defend it by using hartals, if necessary.

Having said this, we also have to remember that we are in a different phase of development now. We are an independent country with a reasonable form of democracy and no longer under a foreign rule or a dictator. Our main challenge now is to work for our economic development while strengthening our democratic process. Without economic emancipation of the mass, independence is not meaningful. With that objective in mind, we should be very careful before supporting or not doing anything about hartals. We should consider enacting a law that will regulate hartal rather than banning it completely. This law should make hartals generally illegal but should keep provision for it in some special circumstances. If there is ever a threat to our constitution or democratic rights, we should be allowed to defend by calling hartals as necessary. For example, if a government ever plans to engineer the election process or manipulate constitutional provisions that may jeopardize our democracy, a hartal can be legally called when all other peaceful means of demonstrations are exhausted.

In all other situations, once we elect a party to form the government, we should allow them to govern for their full term. A government needs to make many important decisions or policies and not all of the policies would seem right to everyone. This type of policies can be criticized in the parliament or in various other forums but a hartal is not appropriate to protest such issues. The government may or may not consider those criticisms but in any case they should be allowed to proceed with whatever policy they adopt because they have people’s mandate to run the country for five years. For example, if a government adopts some new policies related to health, education, or administration, the opposition parties can express their disagreement, if any, in peaceful manners but it should be illegal to call a hartal as long as those government policies are within our constitutional framework. Even if a government’s decision unfairly benefits or disadvantages some individuals or groups, that would not be good enough reason for calling a hartal. The prices of commodities are going up is not a good reason for calling hartal because it may not always be possible for the government to control prices. An opposition party can always criticize and use peaceful means of demonstration to express their concern to make the government to review a policy or just to form public support to be utilized in the next election. If the government is not convinced, the opposition can wait until their turn comes to review and change those policies, as appropriate.

However, if the opposition believes an issue is fundamental and it deserves calling a hartal, they should be allowed to do that; there should be a legal provision. Court’s interpretation can be obtained when it is unclear whether an issue is fundamental enough for hartal. If the court does rule against that hartal, the government will be allowed to use all legal measures to stop it. Currently, the miscreants come out in the guise of legal protesters and once they are on the streets it becomes difficult to stop them from vandalism or charge them. If a hartal is judged as illegal beforehand it may be easier to stop the whole hartal instead of just the illegal acts within a legal hartal.

Enacting a law will not necessarily resolve it completely. There may be difficulty enforcing the law or an interpretation of the law may be in question in some cases. But the law will at least serve as a terms of reference to help the public and politicians to make their judgments and the government to have the power to act when necessary. A carefully designed law can ultimately help reduce frequency of hartals. There are instances where a constitutional arrangement or a law did work in Bangladesh.

There must be rational ways of resolving issues without being destructive. If a government cannot be trusted for five years then the alternative is to reduce the term. As long as a government functions under the constitution they should be allowed to serve peacefully for their whole term. Only the voters reserve the right to remove a government through election, not through hartals by an opposition party who lost the election. Putting national interest ahead of party and individual interests would help find such solutions that would work both when a party is in the power or in the opposition. Otherwise, we will not be able to get out of the cycle of same problems.

Currently, although illegal vandalism comes as a package with hartal and becomes difficult to be stopped because the protesters come to the street legally as part of the hartal and then conduct those acts. If some hartals can be identified as illegal it would easier to be enforce the law at the planning stage to stop the hartal.

*Dr Sadeq R Chowdhury serves in the US Federal Government in Washington D.C. Previously served at Australian Bureau of Statistics in Canberra.

Place your ads here!

No comments

Write a comment
No Comments Yet! You can be first to comment this post!

Write a Comment