Palace of Westminster, London


Government of the people, by the people and for the people

(No. 1 of series to be published in the future)

F R Chowdhury

We all know democracy means “government of the people, by the people and for the people” as stated by Abraham Lincoln. But there is more to it. There can be no democracy without freedom of expression, human rights, equal treatment and fair justice. There must be rule of law. However, rule of law should not be applied to silence opposition. Democracy also means tolerance and respect for views of other people. Democracy does not mean government of balur basta, by balur truck for imprisonment without court orders.

A good politician has to be well educated – not necessarily through institutional degrees and diplomas. One can gain knowledge by pursuing thirst for knowledge without going for degree or diploma. You cannot give leadership without knowledge. For a politician it is necessary to gain the knowledge of politics that must include all the fundamental principles outlined in previous paragraph. The politician has to be a very civilised, cultured and refined person who knows what s/he talks about. The politician will never say in advance that s/he knows who the murderer is or what the motive was. The politician will allow the court to reach its judicious verdict. A politician is required to maintain high standard of decorum and etiquette. The real politician will stand for truth and justice. S/he will substantiate any statement with reasons and justification. That is how a politician creates his/ her support base.

There are many things that may not be written in black and white. But they are to be understood, followed and applied in ethical manner. The Westminster democracy is considered a role model in parliamentary democracy. The head of the state (whether a president or a constitutional monarch) remains a father figure as ultimate guardian of the state. He or she is head of the state and supreme commander of the armed forces. S/he is the ultimate protector of the constitution and nationhood. It is the parliament that debates various issues and makes laws. The leader of the parliamentary party that commands majority support forms the government to run the state. Up to this there is no dispute. Everybody agrees to that.

But there is more to it. By the way, the United Kingdom has no written constitution. Its constitution is nothing other than history, tradition and good precedent, logical and justifiable way of doing things. The queen is obliged to call the leader of the majority party to form the government. But historically in Britain it is understood and accepted that the queen appoints a prime minister to run the state on her behalf. That is why the Queen refers to the government as “my government” and the prime minister refers to it as “Her Majesty’s Government”. The prime minister being an elected person remains responsible to the people through the parliament. Being appointed by the queen, the prime minister also remains responsible to the queen. That is why the system of audience with the queen and prime minister’s question day in parliament exist. The prime minister cannot avoid any one of them. In Britain, the prime minister remains too busy with day to day activities of the government and has no time for ceremonies and functions. All military parades and graduation ceremonies are left for the queen or other members of the royal family. The prime minister may not attend all such functions and ceremonies but the relevant minister and other high officials will.

In any function or ceremony where both the queen and the prime minister happen to attend, the prime minister shall always stand or walk behind the queen to make the clear distinction between the head of the state and the head of the government. On or about the 11th November every year Britain celebrates remembrance/ poppy day.  This is the best function attended by all where one can see the protocol and order of precedence. The leader of the opposition comes immediately after the prime minister. The prime minister may make official visit to other countries but only the queen makes state visit. Similarly other head of states may make state visit to the United Kingdom when invited by the queen.

In the United Kingdom it is understood that the prime minister advises the queen about possible contents of her speech for opening the parliament. But that is never publicly divulged. It remains between the head of the state and the head of the government. In Bangladesh the cabinet officially approves the president’s speech. I cannot think of anything more humiliating than that for the head of the state. The cabinet secretary proves himself the biggest clown when he briefs the press about the cabinet’s approval of the president’s speech. The politicians in Bangladesh got to know and understand how to respect the head of the state. That is an essential ingredient of democracy.

The former colonies of the United Kingdom such as Gibraltar, Bermuda and Cayman Islands etc have now become self-governed overseas territory. They have locally elected government except for defence and foreign affairs. The queen appoints a Governor. The governor appoints judges and keeps the police under his/ her command so that local politicians cannot exert any influence over them. The queen has a privy council to assist her in running the affairs of these self-governed territories. People remain very happy with judiciary as well as law and order. The local politicians get no opportunity to use them in their favour to suppress the opponents or to create a legacy.

Politicians in Bangladesh often talk about the role of the president and the prime minister. Some even say that it should be clearly specified in the constitution or a law. Having read this article so far we think that what is required is the change of mind-set, culture and attitude. It need not be written in a law or constitution. It has come through deeper understanding of democracy. Once the prime minister starts thinking in terms of being appointed by the president (apart from being elected by the people), all confusion and misgivings will disappear. We have to look at the president of the republic as the authority to uphold the constitution and our unity and solidarity as a nation. The government must always bear in mind that they are running the state on behalf of the president who is the ultimate custodian of the state.

In parliamentary system of government, certain functions are kept beyond the direct control of the Government so that no government can exert its party or political influence over the judiciary, armed forces and civil servants. The services of the civil servants are automatically placed at the disposal of the government, irrespective of party politics. This is done to facilitate working together for the common goals of the state and the people. Government decides its policy and planning. The civil servants work as governmental machinery to execute those projects. Civil servants are expected to work with the same spirit and sincerity, no matter which government in power. However, the ultimate loyalty of the civil servants remains with the state and the president.

In most countries with parliamentary democracy the ultimate control over armed forces, police and civil administration remain with the president. It is the president who appoints the high court judges, the election commission, the anti-corruption commission, the civil service commission, the auditor general and the services chiefs. The president must also employ a Commissioner of Human Rights to ensure the human dignity, equal treatment and fair justice. It will be the duty of the CHR to ensure that civil and police administrations are not used for party political gains. The CHR must have the power to order judicial inquiry into any unlawful death and death in custody.  The president must have a body like the Privy Council to advise him on these issues. It is a good idea to have such an advisory team consisting of at least one retired high court judge, a retired civil servant, a retired services chief and a retired university professor. This team may also advise the president on other important issues such as presidential pardon or on any other matter when the president seeks its advice. It is on their advice that president should appoint the right person to the key positions. The government in power should have no role in this respect. These matters must remain above any political consideration.

Such a system will definitely establish real rule of law. Politicians will be able to discuss and resolve all matters in the parliament without the need for any violent activities on the streets. The government will be able to pay more attention to the needs of the people instead of trying to employ the services of the law enforcement authorities for taming the political opponents. People will enjoy the real fruit of democracy and the country will prosper.

In the light of my experience of visiting over fifty countries all over the world, I intend to write a few more articles under the title “Deeper understanding of democracy”.

London, 10-February-2017                                                               <>

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