Legal experts, anti-graft campaigners and social scientists have suggested that no person convicted of criminal offences should be allowed to hold any post in political party or in the government for the sake of democracy, fair polls and rule of law.
They said if any convict gets the chance of holding any office of a political party or the government, there is every possibility that s/he will criminalise and corrupt politics.
“It is not politically, ethically and legally fair to allow any convicted person in any post of a political party or the government,” said Dr Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
A question as to whether a convicted person should hold any party position has come to the fore after BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia was convicted in a graft case.
A special court in Dhaka sentenced Khaleda Zia to rigorous imprisonment for five years in the case filed against her for misappropriating fund of an orphanage founded after the name of her late husband Ziaur Rahman.
The former prime minister continues to hold top BNP post even after her imprisonment. Tarique Rahman, also a convict and eldest son of Khaleda Zia, has been made acting chairman for a temporary period.
While talking to the daily sun, Dr Iftekharuzzaman expressed his fear that politics will be dominated by people having money and muscle power if corrupt and convict persons remain at the helm of political party.
He opined that corrupt and convict persons holding of party or government positions manifests the weakness of rule of law in the country.
Echoing the view of the TIB executive director, Prof Giasuddin Molla, a political science teacher of Dhaka University and president of Political Science Association, said: “Corrupt and convict persons’ holding key positions is contradictory to law, principle and political ethics.”
He believes original BNP constitution, which barred a corrupt person from becoming member of the party, has been amended to create room for corrupt people in the party.
Supreme Court lawyer Manzill Murshid said many corrupt people join politics in Bangladesh to show themselves to be clean in the society and protect their illegally earned money.
He suggested that people should reject corrupt politicians for the betterment of the country.
Holding of political position by a convict is unthinkable in developed countries.Even in neighbouring India, the apex court in an order has discouraged allowing any convicts to hold any office of a political party or the government.
Under the existing law of India, a convict cannot contest any election for six years beginning from the day of the expiry of his/her jail term.
“How can a convicted person be an office-bearer of a political party and select candidates to contest elections? This goes against our judgments that corruption in politics is to be ostracised for the purity of elections,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra, heading a three-judge bench, observed on Monday.
A bench of the SC made the query while hearing public interest litigation (PIL), seeking a ban on convicts from forming a political party or becoming an officer-bearer of any party for the time they are disqualified for contesting polls.
“If he can’t contest, how can he form political party and also select candidates,” the court asked the Centre and Election Commission.
The bench added: “So it is that what you cannot do individually, you can do collectively through some of your agents.”
On the contention that people have a right to form associations, it said they can form an association to establish a school, but “when they are in the field of governance, it matters”.
In December last year, the SC decided to hear the PIL filed by Delhi BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay and issued notice to the Centre and the Commission.
In its affidavit, the EC said it had earlier proposed to the government that the law should be amended to provide that any person accused of an offence punishable by imprisonment for five years or more should be disqualified from contesting elections even while trial is pending, provided the court has framed charges against him.
Article 66 (2) (C) of Constitution of Bangladesh says a convicted person cannot contest polls before expiry of five years of serving sentence and conviction in connection with criminal offence or moral turpitude.
The spirit of the Article is that a convicted person should be prevented from entering government at the gate, said legal experts.
But many persons are holding party posts and government positions despite their conviction in criminal and corruption cases.
BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman has been sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years in Zia Orphanage Trust graft case.
On July 21, 2016, the High Court sentenced Tarique Rahman to seven years in a money laundering case.
The High Court overturned a 2013 acquittal, in which a Dhaka court had cleared Rahman of charges that he and a friend siphoned off millions of dollars to Singapore between 2003 and 2007.
The High Court said Tarique Rahman used his political influence to help his close friend, Giasuddin Mamun, to get and then launder Tk 200 million.
Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya is continuing his post despite conviction in corruption cases. He, however, appealed to the higher court against the conviction.
BNP standing committee member Mirza Abbas was convicted in graft case during the last caretaker regime. Barrister Nazmul Huda, former communications minister of BNP, formed a new party becoming its head despite conviction in graft case.
BNP standing committee member and former speaker Barrister Jamiruddin Sircar faced graft allegation for misappropriating state fund.
Many other former and present lawmakers of BNP are either convicted or facing graft cases. They are holding party posts.
Many of them are planning to contest the next national election.