Sheikh Hasina chose to make the announcement during a trip to Britain, but her words instantly made waves in Bangladesh. During an interview with BBC Bangla, the prime minister said that the next parliamentary elections could be held under an interim government comprised of representatives of both the government and the opposition.
The prime minister’s words are significant since this is the first time she has shown a willingness to consider anything but polls under her own party.
Within hours, Awami League leaders had hit the airwaves echoing the party leader’s formula. The incumbent prime minister can head the proposed interim government under which the next general election will be held as per the constitution, said State Minister for Law Advocate Qamrul Islam.
“As per the constitution, there’s no bar to the incumbent PM to become the head of an interim government,” he told UNB on Tuesday.
Defending the PM’s all-party interim government formula, Awami League stalwart Suranjit Sengupta also said democracy does not approve any nonparty caretaker government system.
“There’s no scope of having non-party government in democracy…parties are the key elements of democracy. You have a party and I have as well… So, the government could be all-party one,” he told a discussion.
The BNP, for its part, was quick to remind the Awami League that it had proposed a similar formula while in power in 1996, which was rejected outright by Hasina. This time the shoe is on the other foot and the Awami League is promoting a formula it once despised.
Referring to the prime minister’s proposal for ‘small cabinet’ with opposition to oversee the next polls, the BNP acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said Khaleda Zia proposed the same solution in 1996 which was not accepted the then opposition AL.
“So how Sheikh Hasina expects that we will take part in election accepting her proposal?” he asked, adding that proposal for a political interim government will not bring any good for the government.
“It will not be allowed that Sheikh Hasina will contest the election staying in the post of prime minister,” he stated.
Although the ruling party has said it is implementing the directive of the Supreme Court, legal experts say the restoration by parliament of the nullified constitutional provision relating to the caretaker government system will be legal since the Supreme Court has said the system can be kept in place for two more terms.
Parliament, if it wishes, may reintroduce the now defunct model of the caretaker government system or introduce a new model of it by amending the constitution. The act will be aimed at holding two more parliamentary elections under the caretaker government system, suggested many analysts.
The verdict, however, triggered widespread controversy as many jurists and politicians dubbed it self-contradictory. They questioned how the next two parliamentary elections could be held under an “illegal” system. Many feared the verdict would deepen the political crisis over the holding of the next parliamentary election.
The Awami League-led government did not wait to get the copy of the full verdict. On June 30 last year it swiftly scrapped the caretaker government system through amending the constitution. In its opinion, an “illegal system cannot be kept in the constitution”.
In the brief verdict released immediately after the judgment, the apex court, however, said the system might be retained for holding two more parliamentary elections on the three age-old principles.
The sources said the hurried abolition of the caretaker government system had disappointed the former chief justice and at one stage he even declined to write the full verdict. He, however, changed his mind, considering the significance of the verdict.
The latest development has been communicated to the Appellate Division, according to the source.
“We have tried to clear the legal position on this issue in detail in our verdict. You can understand everything if you read the short order [of the verdict] properly,” Justice Khairul told reporters.
In response to a query as to whether the caretaker government system would remain in place following the verdict, he said, “We have given this verdict considering all legal aspects, the country and its people and the existing situation.”
Soon after the court’s verdict, politics took a new turn over the caretaker government system. The caretaker formula was introduced in 1996 after vigorous street agitation in its favour by the now-governing Awami League.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary special committee on constitutional amendments drafted proposals for keeping the provision of the caretaker government system by bringing about some changes in the system. But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is also chief of the ruling Awami League, did not agree with the special committee’s proposals. Parliament on June 30 2011 abolished the system by passing the 15th amendment to the constitution.
The main opposition BNP and its like-minded parties have strongly opposed the move, making it known that they will not take part in the next parliamentary elections, to be held in early 2014, if they are not held under a caretaker government.
The concept of a caretaker government for a fixed period, when the term of an elected government ends and elections are held for forming a new government, is not any new addition in the practice of democracy. In fact all the countries following the Westminster style parliamentary system practice this concept of caretaker government. When a new general election is scheduled and a date is fixed, the outgoing government remains in office but in effect it takes the form of a care taker government. This practice of the concept of care taker government by the outgoing elected political government is followed in a political culture where trust and confidence exists among the major political parties about the fairness of entire electoral process.
With the enactment of Constitution 13th (Amendment) Act, 1996 Bangladesh had introduced an unique system of non-party caretaker government in the sense that the outgoing elected government actually steps down and an interim government is formed as a non-party caretaker government, making a distinction between the conventional caretaker government and a non-party caretaker government.
The Bangladesh practice of a non-party caretaker government has its roots in the political culture of the country featured with mistrust among the political parties. Historically the elections held under the outgoing political government could neither earn the confidence of the political parties nor the people at large. Unlike other countries that have practiced the parliamentary system successfully, in Bangladesh the outgoing government in the past had manipulated the levers of power to rig the election to ensure its own victory.
Non-party caretaker government has been the outcome of our political struggle over evolving a manipulation free electoral process. The crisis of creating congenial atmosphere in holding free and fair election was created by the political parties and the political parties had themselves came forward with the solution for overcoming the same through the constitutional process of “Non-Party Caretaker Government”. With such amendment, free will of the people for exercising their fundamental right of casting vote in the general election, has contributed to the establishment of democracy in its true meaning. The concept of non party caretaker government has been imbued with the value of democracy in the sense that it has been backed by people from all walks of life and was unanimously agreed by all the political parties.
Without a non-party caretaker system in place, many experts feel the process under which democracy is practiced in this country, free, fair and independent election would be jeopardized. Because of the situation prevailing in the electoral process and massive use of power, muscle and money, incorporation of a new chapter by the way of 13th Amendment was necessitated for holding election freely and freely under the Non-Party Caretaker Government. If people cannot trust or keep faith on the partisan government or on the system of holding free, fair and impartial elections will remain a distant dream.
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