Non-Party Caretaker Government And Its Rule in Bangladesh
2011, the year Bangladesh is going to observe its 40th independence anniversary. Bangladesh has almost exceeded four decades of its independence but in most segments it yet has not achieved its expected targets, such as political, technological, societal, economic, and many other aspects. Especially in political arena it is still very much unstable. The How much stability Bangladesh has achieved? This is the most frequently asked question among local and international political analyst on the eve of its 40th independence anniversary. The answer is really dissatisfactory. In it’s almost 40 years of independence it has already gone through much political instability, violence, conflicts, mistrust and misperception among the political parties, and this kind of parochial and hidebound political culture is still going on. The Non-Party Caretaker Government (NCG) is the outcome of this unstable dirty politics.
The Non-Party Caretaker Government is a constitutional innovation in Bangladesh. This mechanism was first introduced in 1991 election, but become a part of constitution in 1996. After the end of Ershad military regime the governing power of the country handed over to a Non-Party Caretaker government headed by Ex-Chief Justice Mr. Shabuddin Ahmed. They arranged the election of 1991. After that the elections of 1996, 2001, and 2008 was conducted under three different Non-Party Caretaker Governments. The motive behind the caretaker government was a free and fair election, but the motive has not achieved. Before and after each elections so many occurrence has occurred which were full of violence and conflict. After the election of 1991, Awami League rejected the result and accused corruption in the election. Before the 1996 election BNP don’t want to conduct the election under caretaker government and conduct an election under them<href=”#_ftn3″>. Again the election conducted under caretaker government and BNP defeated, then they rejected the result. Same situation happened at 2001<href=”#_ftn4″>. But the situation in 2006 was really violent. Two different caretaker governments rule the county for almost two years and three months. So there is a big question on the effectiveness of caretaker government. The future of caretaker government is also a big question.
2.0 What is a Non-Party Caretaker Government?
Bangladeshi Non-party caretaker government is the one of the more interesting constitutional innovations of recent times. Chapter IIA of Bangladeshi constitution covers this part. Thirteen amendment bill to the constitution on March 26, 1996 incorporating the provisions of care-taker government<href=”#_ftn5″>. A caretaker government is one which normally takes care of the routing administrative work of the government for an interim period until the regular new government is formed. In Bangladesh, after end of the period of a regular government when the parliament dissolve, then a caretaker government forms as a transformation period government for organizing a general election which will be free and fair. The caretaker government is the non-party platform for the election. They are not able to form any kind of policy and neither able to give policy related decision. Free and fair election is their one and only ultimate goal of this government. The caretaker government will dissolve on the day, when new elected prime minister will take his or her office.
When parliament dissolve after the end of the term of a government, then the Caretaker government forms by headed with the chief advisor. This government is accountable to the president. There will be not more than ten other advisors in the government. The chief advisor and other advisors have to be appointed within fifteen days after the parliament dissolved. Up to before that appointment, the previous ruling government will continue country’s regular administrative job<href=”#_ftn6″>. President will appoint the chief advisor, he has some chronologic choice for the chief advisor and they are as below<href=”#_ftn7″>:
- Last retired chief justice
- Retired chief justice who retired next before the last retired chief justice
- Last retired judge of appellate division
- Retired judge of appellate division who retired next before the last retired judge of appellate division
- Consult with the political parties to select a person among the citizen
- President will function as chief advisor as additional duty
All the other advisors are appointed by the president on the advice of the chief advisor. They have to be qualified as a parliament member, not affiliated with any political party, give it written that they will not stand for the election, and not more than seventy two years of age. The chief advisor will get the status of prime minister and other advisor will get the status of minister. They will not able to take any kind of policy related decision, just able to continue the routine tusk. They will give the government the full support about the peaceful and fair election and give power to elected government with in 90 days of taking power<href=”#_ftn8″>.
3.0 Five different Caretaker Governments
Caretaker Government of 1991<href=”#_ftn9″>
Because of tremendous political pressure and protest of three different fronts in late 1990 dictator Ershad had to dissolve his government and handover the power to the care taker government. Then there was no option like caretaker government in the constitution on that time. So all parties decided, Ershad have to appoint a neutral and non-partisan person as Vice-President acceptable to the three alliances and other parties under article 51(A) clause 3, article 55(A) clause 1 and article 51 clause 3 of the constitution. After his resignation President Ershad has to hand over power to the Vice-President, who will become the head of the caretaker government as the acting President. The interim care-taker government shall hold a free and fair election for a sovereign parliament within three months’ time of its installation. According to that former chief justice Shahabuddin Ahmed appointed as vice-president, and he become the acting president and chief advisor of caretaker government. Seventeen advisors were appointed on that time. They arrange a free and fair election and BNP form the government by owning the election.
Caretaker Government of 1996<href=”#_ftn10″>
Caretaker government of 1991 was mutual political solution for a critical political transformation. But the caretaker government of 1996 was an essentiality to go along with the constitution. Sixth national parliament was dissolved on 30 March, 1996. So a caretaker government forms under the thirteenth amendment headed by former justice Md. Habibur Rahman as the chief advisor on that day. For days later ten other advisors were appointed. They arrange an election on 12 June which was won by Awami League and handover the power on 23 June.
Caretaker government of 2001<href=”#_ftn11″>
The third caretaker government was formed on the day, 15 July, 2001 according to the thirteenth amendment. The former Chief Justice Latifur Rahman was appointed as the Chief Adviser. After two days, ten other Advisers of the caretaker government were also appointed. The caretaker government re-shuffled the total administration for neutral election. Arrange the eighth parliamentary election on 1 October 2001, and BNP own the election as four-party alliance with two third majority and formed government 10 October 2001.
Caretaker Government of 2006<href=”#_ftn12″>
After the five years of term of BNP government, country was moving towards 9th parliamentary election. But unbelievable amount of manipulation of the caretaker government, Election Commission, voter list, and the administration created a politically volatile situation in Bangladesh. Awami league and other opposition party didn’t want to see justice Hasan ac the chief of caretaker government, at that time bypassing the entire different alternatives president Iajuddin Ahmed declared him as the chief advisor of caretaker government. President was appointed by the BNP government and that’s why Awami League really can’t trust him. But they decided to participate on the 22 January election if the president fulfilled their demand. But he can’t able fulfill all the demand so that Awami league and their alliance decided to boycott the election. To resolve the conflictions Army take the initiative change the caretaker government and cancelled the election.
Caretaker Government of 2007<href=”#_ftn13″>
A new caretaker government was by headed Fakhruddin Ahmed as the chief advisor. Basically it was an army backed government. This government administrates the country almost for two years, takes so many reform programs, and started war against corruption. But this army backed caretaker government become very much questionable during their 2nd year of running period because of their unethical attempt to form new political party by breaking the existing political parties and doing corrupting to prevent corruption. They arrange an election on 29 December, 2008. Awami league won that election and formed government on 10 January, 2009.
4.0 How Political Parties tried to and trying to Manipulates the Post of Chief Advisor?
Political parties tried to manipulates chief advisor post for many time and also trying now. They always want to seta person who will be on their favor. That’s why they always try to do some kind of mechanism for the chief advisor post.
In 2006, when BNP government was on power they want a person who will be in favor of them to be the chief of caretaker government. For that justice K M Hasan was the fittest. He was BNP’s secretary for international-affairs. He was also a relative of Faruk, who was one of the killers of Sekh Mujib. So BNP was petty sure that he will be their favor. To make him fit for the chief advisor post BNP went for fourteenth amendment to the constitution and increased retirement age of justices<href=”#_ftn14″>. But because of the high political pressure and protest of Awami League, they don’t able to implement the conspiracy. Then they went for another one, they appointed the president who was also in their favor as the chief advisor bypassing all other alternative.
Awami League is also trying to manipulate the chief advisor post now. They don’t maintain the seniority for appointing chief justice post. Even they don’t consider merit. Justice Motin is the most senior and justice Naim is the most meritorious. But they appoint Justice Khairul Haq as chief justice and he will be the next chief advisor of caretaker government. They appoint Justice Haq for that post because they think that he will be favorable for them. He has cancelled the Fifth Amendment. On the other hand justice Naim is well qualified but he is the brother of BNP leader Hannan Shah. So they really don’t trust the person<href=”#_ftn15″>.
5.0 The Debate about the Reform of Caretaker Government among the Political Parties
The idea of reform of caretaker government first came into focus around the year 2006, when BNP design such a mechanism that the chief of advisors of caretaker government will be a person who was affiliated with BNP in past.
In 2006, before the formation of new caretaker government, AL demand for reform of caretaker government system. They had some specific reform proposal. Main three of them were as below<href=”#_ftn16″>:
- The chief advisor of the caretaker government should be elected by consultation with major political parties.
- The chief advisor will get the same power as it is prime minister.
- The armed forces will be under the control of chief advisor, not under the control of president.
AL leader’s one point behind these reforms proposal was that the framework for selection of a chief adviser acceptable to all parties was very much there in the existing constitution. There are some options about the appointment of chief advisor in the thirteenth amendment to the constitution and the second last option provided is on the basis of consultation with political parties. The leaders demanded to exercise of this option.
AL leader’s another point behind these reforms proposal was that the president is selected by the majority party in the parliament. Under normal circumstances president work on the advise of the prime minister. When parliament dissolve, then president own the executive power. Chief advisor is accountable to the president. But chief advisor is the replacement of prime minister.
As Suranjit Sengupta said on that time:
“Chief adviser should have same powers as prime minister<href=”#_ftn17″>”
This is not consistent with the principles of parliamentary democracy in the first place according to AL leaders. Also the president is selected by the majority party can get favor at the time of caretaker government if the president have the executive power and control over armed forces. AL leaders also accused that these were the reason behind their defeat in 2001. AL leader Abdul Jalil said on that time:
“2001 forced us to see defects in the system<href=”#_ftn18″>”
But the leaders of that time’s ruling party BNP, defended that if they start to select the chief advisor on the basis of consultation with ‘all’ political parties then finding the right person for the all parties will be impossible. Because they had a belief that major political parties, who are not able to reach consensus on minimum national issues will never be able to rich to the solution of selecting the right person. They also said that caretaker government is for three month but the regular elected government for five years, so it will hhnot be wise to compare each other. The caretaker government must be accountable to president because after the election just the new government form. So if caretakers are not accountable to president then they don’t have any accountability to any one because they are not elected government and they are just for routine work for the interim period. BNP leader Moudud Ahmed said on that time:
“Non-elected chief adviser not equal to elected PM<href=”#_ftn19″>”
They also defend that president is not elected by any party; he is elected by the parliament. They strongly believed that the ‘four-person factor,’ whom are the president, the chief adviser, the chief election commissioner, and the chief of staff of the army don’t have any influence the election results. Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, BNP standing committee member said on that time:
“1996 and 2001 proved no advantage for incumbents<href=”#_ftn20″>”
“Before the 1996 elections, the president Abdur Rahman Biswas, the chief election commissioner Abu Hena, and the army chief Lieutenant General Nasim, were either elected or appointed by the then BNP government with a belief that they would not be harmful to the party. And according to the constitution, Justice Habibur Rahman was the obvious choice as the chief adviser. But the Awami League won the election<href=”#_ftn21″>.”
But in 2009, the debate on caretaker government system got a new shape. The rolling party Awami League’s leaders think about the change of caretaker government. Their general-secretary Syed Ashraful Islam publicly said this system as a failure. He also suggested that there should be a debate among the political parties about the future of the continuation of caretaker system. On June 28, 2009 when the budget session of parliament was going on, Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury also said in the parliament to bring to an end the caretaker government system to the parliament members. Also the Awami league leader Suranjit SenGupta called for the termination of caretaker government. But BNP leaders reacted to this as AL was trying to capture the power again by elation manipulation. Then the debate turns to anew way. To neutralize the situation the Alauddin Ahmed, who is prime minister’s avdisor said that some Awami league leaders are talking about the change in caretaker system but the governments actually didn’t have any plan to change that on that time<href=”#_ftn22″>.
In 2010, Prime Minister Sekh Hasina said to the journalist at New York that her government doesn’t have interest to change the system of caretaker government system though they have a bad experience of caretaker government for two years<href=”#_ftn23″>.
6.0 Recommendations for Possible Changes of Caretaker Government or Alternative of this System<href=”#_ftn24″>
Even Bangladesh is a democratic nation but the system of caretaker government proves our immaturity in terms of democratic system. The innovation of caretaker government is not our credit, it is our lacking. It can’t be a solution, it is an emergency condition. It proves the mistrust among our political parties and unstable political situation; and it born from that situation, so it can’t be a solution, it will create some new problem every time. This system can prolong for a critical and momentary moment but not forever. Now reformation can be occurred in the current system. Step by step this system can be knocked down. So we need to re-think about this system. But it will be best if we can remove this unexpected child in democracy. Some necessary stapes should be taken to change this situation:
- We have to implement the idea of truly independent election commission with independent infrastructure and manpower. The present Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda recently said it is possible to hold free-and-fair elections under a political government<href=”#_ftn25″>. Previous CEC Abu Hena also said that it is obviously possible to hold free-and-fair election under a political government but it should be more powerful.
- Law and order ensuring agency will be under the control of Election Commission in the time of election. Political recruitment in this kind or agency should be stopped.
- Civil society should be very active in terms of participation and evaluation.
- Create social awareness to create a free election commission.
- In terms of appointing chief election commissioner and chief justice, prime minister should not give any kind of recommendation to the president. A panel will be create consist of representative form civil society to recommend the name of chief justice.
Before doing these we the people especially the politician have to change their constricted mentality of refusing election results, they should respect the popular consent and accept the victory of their opponents. When our politicians will able to carry on this kind of acceptable mentality and will able to respect each other, then it will become possible to change the system of caretaker government.
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