The constitution of Bangladesh bestows the parliament with supreme powers in making laws and approving budgets. It is given wide-ranging authority to scrutinise the actions of the executive who remains accountable to the parliament. Notwithstanding these constitutional powers, in reality, the parliament’s performance has fallen far short of its promise of being the central institution of democracy, expressing the will of the people, and making the government regularly accountable to that will.

The major focus of this present study is to investigate the evolution of the role and functions of the parliament since Bangladesh’s independence. Though the parliament performs many roles and functions, we mainly focus on its two key roles: representation and accountability.

In this study we have analysed the accountability role of the parliament in both its horizontal and vertical dimensions. To assess horizontal accountability we have assessed the parliament’s performance in legislation and budget making; and, in scrutiny and oversight of the executive branch of the government. To investigate the state of vertical accountability, we have focussed on the issue of the parliament’s accountability to the citizens. Here we have explored the practices being used by the parliamentarians as well as citizens to ensure the former’s accountability to the latter.

The study discusses the historical evolution of the nine parliaments in the context of the changes in the political system of the country. In particular, ‘the rules of the game’, the constitutional and legal provisions, have changed over the years. We have also described the structure, institutions and functions of the parliament in Bangladesh as prescribed by the constitution and the Rules of Procedure of the parliament.

We have in particular focussed on the parliament’s role of representation and its accountability to the voters and citizens. Representation is studied from different perspectives. We have investigated several questions: how representative is the parliament politically? How the majority and minority voices are constructed in parliament under the ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) electoral system? In terms of horizontal accountability we have focussed on legislation, budget-making, scrutiny and oversight, and investigated to what extent the parliament is actually legislating? Is law making an exclusive prerogative of the parliament? How proactive is the institution in its scrutiny of the executive branch?

Areas of progress and deficits are identified along with options for corrective measures. Lessons from other countries are discussed and highlighted. In summarising key findings, critical issues are identified and suggestions given that can possibly make the parliament more democratic and effective. We hope these suggestions will contribute to further discussion and debate about the role of parliament in Bangladesh.