A Report on the structure of caretaker government
The caretaker government of Bangladesh is a form of government system in which the country is ruled by a selected government for an interim period during transition from one government to another, after the completion tenure of the former. As the outgoing government hands over their power, the caretaker government comes into place. The main objective of the caretaker government is to create an environment in which an election can be held in a free and fair manner without any political influence of the outgoing government. The head of the Caretaker government is called the Chief Adviser and is selected by the President, and the Chief Adviser selects the other advisers. The administration is generally distributed between the advisers. The Chief Adviser and the other advisers are committed for their activities to the President.
A caretaker government was first introduced in 1990 when three party alliances jointly made a demand for it. It was constitutionalized in 1996 by the Parliament dominated by Bangladesh Nationalist Party. A Caretaker government is headed by a Chief Adviser who enjoys the same power as the regular prime minister of the country except defense matters. The Advisors function as Ministers. Since 1996, the Caretaker government has held the elections of 1996, 2001 and 2008.
Caretaker Government in the parlance of institutional government, a caretaker government is one which normally takes care of state administration for an interim period until the regular new government is formed. In established parliamentary system, there is a convention of transformation of the outgoing government into a caretaker government for the time being before the holding of general election. Such temporary government exists only to perform day to day administrative jobs, and is not supposed to deal with policy initiating functions which may influence the election results. During the period the caretaker government maintains neutral status for ensuring free and fair general elections. In the parliamentary framework, after the dissolution of one ministry, the practice of establishing caretaker government for organizing general polls has been observed in all democratic countries.
2.1 HISTORY OF CARETAKER GOVERNMENTIN BANGLADESH
In 1991 after the formation of parliament a “bill for neutral caretaker government,” for holding free, fair and impartial election future, was placed in the second session of the 5th parliament on behalf of Jamat-e-islami. But the ruling party did not allow the bill to be moved in the house. Then in September 1993 Awami league and Jatiya party deposited two separate bills for neutral care-taker government in the secretariat of the parliament for introducing the same in the house of the nation. But the said two bills were never allowed to come to the house. Awami league proposed for amendment of article 56 and in place of clause 4 of art. 56 a clause stating for the period between and after the dissolution of Parliament and until the declaration of the result of the national election, the president of the republic shall invite the chief justice of Bangladesh to form the interim care-taker government. Awami league also proposed for insertion of three more clauses e.g.-
01. The Chief Justice shall not be a candidate in the National election. The Chief Justice shall form a small Advisory Council with neutral persons.
02. The Care-Taker Government shall hand over power to the newly elected Government as soon as they take oath of office.
03. The duties performed by the Chief Justice as head of the Caretaker Government shall be deemed to have been done in addition to his own duties and there will be no impediment on the way for the Chief Justice to return to his own original post and to discharge his duties as Chief Justice after handing over the power of interim Care-Taker Government.
Jatiya Party had proposed for amendment of Art. 123 of the Constitution. J. P. proposed for addition of a few more clauses after clause 4 of Art. 123. It was proposed that on the date of declaration of the date of election the Prime Minister should resign and the President to his satisfaction would appoint a Prime Minister for interim period and the said Prime Minister would form an interim Care-Taker Government as successor to the outgoing Government. No member of this Government should be a member of any Political Party and they should not represent any Political Party and none of them should seek election in any way in the forthcoming election. So it is evident that three bills for formation of Care-Taker Government were deposited by three Political Parties for amendment of the Constitution as early as in 1993. The then ruling party did not allow the above three bills to see the light of the day. The opposition parties gave time to amend the constitution within June 26, 1994. Since the then Government did not comply with the demand of the opposition parties within the time schedule given by them, they on June 27, 1994 in a press conference declared the ‘frame work’ of an “Interim Non-party Care-Taker Government” and amongst other proposed for amendment of Art. 55 of the Constitution. On July 3, the opposition came out in the street with processions for attaining a Non-party Care-Taker Government and ousting the B.N.P. Government. The political crisis was heightened. To resolve the crisis Ameca Aniaku, the Secretary-General of Common-wealth came. He could not make any head way. He is followed by his special envoy Sir Ninean, a former Judge of Australia. He came on October 13,1995 and he tried for 40 days to bring about a solution of the crisis. Before his departure he gave a formula of Care-Taker Government. His idea was that Begum Zia should remain Prime Minister and she would form a Care-Taker Government with 5 members from the Government Party and 5 members from the Opposition Parties. But his proposal was found unacceptable and he left Bangladesh on November 20, 1995 without success.
Notwithstanding these facts, after the farcical election of February 15,1996 Khaleda Zia in her address to the nation said that on account of resignation of the members of the opposition from the Parliament necessary amendment of the constitution could not be made.’ But the record shows that 147 members of the opposition resigned on December 28,1994 and their seats became vacant on July 20,1995. She failed to hold by-election in respect of the vacant seats. She ultimately advised the President on November 24,1995 to dissolve the Parliament and it was so done. It was therefore incorrect to say that the necessary amendment to the constitution could not be made owing to the resignation of the members of the opposition from the Parliament. After holding so-called election on November 15, 1996 B.N.P. was pushed to the wall due to the mounting opposition. The people and officials of all levels of the Republic declared their solidarity with the demand for Interim Non-Party Care Taker Government and ouster of the B.N.P. Government. Officials from the rank of Secretaries down to the rank of peons came out from the Secretariat, broke the order U/s. 144 Cr. P.C. and joined anti-government movement. Continuous hartals became the order of the day. No transport was found plying on the road. Ports were closed. Total economic activities in the country came to that’s. When the situation became very grim and unbearable the B.N.P. Government had to find out a way for their exit. So in a hurry and spending a sleepless night passed the constitution (Thirteenth Amendment) Act, 1996 on the night following 25th March which was assented to by the President on March 28,1996 and published in the Bangladesh Gazette on the same day. The Controversial 6th Parliament was dissolved on March 30, 1996.
3.1 PROVISIONS OF CARETAKER GOVERNMENT UNDER BANGLADESH
Article 58B. (1) There shall be a Non-Party Care-taker government during the period from the date on which the Chief Adviser of such government enters upon office after Parliament is dissolved or stands dissolved by reason of expiration of its term till the date on which a new Prime Minister enters upon his office after the constitution of Parliament.
(2) The Non-Party Care-taker government shall be collectively responsible to the President.
(3) The executive power of the Republic shall, during the period mentioned in clause (1), be exercised, subject tot he provisions of article 58B(1), in accordance with this Constitution, by or on the authority of the Chief-Adviser and shall be exercised by him in accordance with the advice of the Non-Party Government.
(4) The provisions of article 55(4), (5) and (6) shall (with the necessary adaptations) apply to similar matters during the period mentioned in clause (1).
Article 58C. (1)The Non-Party Care-taker Government shall consist of the Chief Adviser at its head and not more than ten other Advisers, all of whom shall be appointed by the President.
(2) The Chief Adviser and other Adviser shall be appointed within fifteen days after Parliament is dissolved or stands dissolved, and during the period between the dates on which the Chief Adviser is appointed, the Prime Minister and his cabinet who were in office immediately before Parliament was dissolved or stood dissolved shall continue to hold office as such.
(3) The President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired last and who is qualified to be appointed as an Adviser under this article:
Provided that if such retired Chief Justice is not available or is not willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Chief Justice of Bangladesh retired next before the last retired Chief Justice.
(4) If no retired Chief Justice is available or willing to hold the office of Chief adviser, the President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Judge of the Appellate Division retired last and who is qualified to be appointed as an Adviser under this article:
Provided that if such retired Judge is not available or is not willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Judge of the Appellate Division retired next before the last such retired Judge.
(5) If no retired Judge of the Appellate Division is available or willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall, after consultation, as far as practicable, with the major political parties, appoint the Chief Adviser from among citizens of Bangladesh who are qualified to be appointed as Advisers under this article.
(6) Notwithstanding anything is this Chapter, if the provisions of clauses (3), (4) and (5) cannot be given effect to the President shall assume the functions of the Chief Adviser of the Non-Party Care-taker Government in addition to his own functions under this Constitution.
(7) The President shall appoint Advisers from among the persons who are-
(a) qualified for election as members of Parliament;
(b) not members of any political party or of any organization associated with or
affiliated to any political party;
(c) not, and have agreed in writing not to be, candidates for the ensuring election of
Members of Parliament;
(d) not over seventy-two years of age.
(8) The advisers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Chief Adviser.
(9) The Chief Adviser or an Adviser may resign his office by writing under his hand
addressed to the President.
(10) The Chief Adviser or an Adviser shall cease to be Chief Adviser or Adviser if he is
disqualified to be appointed as such under this article.
(11) The Chief Adviser shall have the status, and shall be entitled to the remuneration
and privileges, of a Prime Minister, and an Adviser shall have the status, and shall
be entitled to the remuneration and privileges, of a Minister.
(12) The Non-Party Care-taker Government shall stand dissolved on the date on which
the Prime Minister enters upon his office after the constitution of new Parliament.
Article 58D. (1) The Non-Party Care-taker Government shall discharge its functions as an interim government and shall carry on the routine functions of such government with the aid and assistance of persons in the services of the Republic; and, except in the case of necessity for the discharge of such functions it shall not make any policy decision.
(2) The Non-Party Care-taker Government shall give to the Election Commission all possible aid and assistance that may be required for holding the general election of members of Parliament peacefully, fairly and impartially.
Article 58E. Notwithstanding anything contained in articles 48(3), 141A(1) and 141C(1) of the Constitution, during the period the Non-Party Care-taker Government is functioning, provisions in the Constitution requiring the President to act on the advice of the Prime Minister or upon his prior counter-signature shall be ineffective
4.1 Composition, Function, Qualifications of the Caretaker Government
4.1. a. Qualification of the Advisers
According to provisions of the 13th Amendment the question of formation of caretaker government will arise in the following two situations:
(i) If parliament is dissolved for any reason a caretaker government shall be
appointed within 15 days after such dissolution.
(ii) If parliament stands dissolved, a caretaker government shall be appointed within
15 days after such dissolution. [(Article 58C(2)]
According to Article 58C the caretaker government shall consist of not more than 11 members of whom one shall be a Chief Adviser and other 10 shall be Advisers.
Under Article 58C (7) the President shall appoint Advisers from among the persons who are:
(a) qualified for election as members of parliament;
(b) not members of any political party or any organization associated with or
affiliated to any political party.
(c) not, and have agreed in writing not to be, candidates for ensuring election of
members of parliament;
(d) not over seventy-two years of age.
4.1. b Who can be appointed as the Chief Adviser
Following persons having qualification of an Adviser may be appointed as Chief Adviser by the President: The person who among the retired Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired last.
01. If such retired Chief Justice is not available or is not willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired next before the last retired Chief Justice.
02. If no retired Chief Justice is available or willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the
President shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired judges of the Appellate Division retired last.
03. If such retired judge is not available or is not willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser the person who among the retired judges of the Appellate Division retired next before the last such retired judge.
04. If no retired judge of the Appellate Division is available or willing to hold the office of Chief Adviser, the President shall, after consultation, as far as practicable, with the major political parties, appoint the Chief Adviser from among citizens of Bangladesh.
05. If none of the above-mentioned persons can be found to be appointed as the Chief Adviser, the President shall assume the function of the Chief Adviser (Article 58C).
The Chief Adviser shall have the status, and shall be entitled to the remuneration and privileges, of a Prime Minister and an Adviser shall have the status, and shall be entitled to the remuneration and privileges of a Minister.
4.1. c Functions of Caretaker government
Article 58D of the Constitution of Bangladesh provides about function of the caretaker government:
(i) The non-party caretaker government shall discharge its function as an interim government and shall carry on the routine function of such government with the aid and assistance of pet-sons in the services of the Republic; and, except in the case of necessity for the discharge of such functions it shall not make any policy decisions.
(ii) The non-party caretaker government shall give to the Election Commission all possible aid and assistance that may be required for holding the general election of members of parliament peacefully, fairly and impartially
Caretaker governments may also be put in place when a government in a parliamentary system is defeated in a motion of no confidence or in the case when the house to which the government is responsible is dissolved, to rule the country for an interim period until an election is held and a new government is formed. This type of caretaker government is adopted in Bangladesh where an advisor council led by the former chief judge rules the country for 3 months before an elected government takes over. In systems where coalition governments are frequent a caretaker government may be installed temporarily while negotiations to form a new coalition take place. This usually occurs either immediately after an election in which there is no clear victor or if one coalition government collapses and a new one must be negotiated.
5.1 Caretaker Governments
5.2 Caretaker Government, 1990
In Bangladesh the demand for neutral caretaker government largely originated from a lack of general agreement among the competing parties to maintain legitimate means of changing government and uphold unbiased election system. During the pre-independence days, the elections of 1954 and 1970 were widely acclaimed as fair polls having significant impact on the people’s movements which ultimately led to the emergence of sovereign Bangladesh in 1971.
In the period since independence, there was, however, a gradual public alienation from the election process owing to alleged electoral malpractices. As such, election results were always a foregone conclusion rendering no positive effects on the political process. The crisis of people’s confidence in the stage-managed election system reached its peak during the rule of General hussain m ershad. Restoration of democracy through fair polls was ultimately transformed into a united anti-Ershad movement by the combined opposition parties with a forceful demand for a neutral caretaker government. Opposition formula for the formation of neutral caretaker government was categorically mentioned in the 1990 Joint Declaration of the Three (political) Party Alliances. The Declaration specified inter alia that the political alliances would participate in the elections only when conducted by a neutral non-partisan caretaker government; but before that Ershad government would have to be forced to resign and an interim caretaker government would be formed; thereafter, Election Commission would be reconstituted by the caretaker government to hold free and fair election.
In the face of the anti-government public outburst and mass upsurge, General Ershad had to yield to the movement. As such the framework for the formation of caretaker government advanced when the Joint Declaration was translated into reality on 6 December 1990 through the handing over state power to the nominee of the combined opposition Justice shahabuddin ahmed, the chief justice of Bangladesh. Earlier, the then Vice President Moudud Ahmed resigned and Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was installed as the Vice President. Then General Ershad stepped down from the presidency giving his charge to the Chief Justice emerging as the country’s Acting President and head of the neutral caretaker government. Subsequently, 17 Advisers of the caretaker government were appointed.
It may be mentioned that the neutral caretaker government of 1990 was constituted without any prior constitutional amendments. It was understandable that there was indeed a difficulty in convening the existing jatiya sangsad owing to shortage of time. The caretaker government of Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, however, had the basis of support from the general people and parties and thus the legality of its activities was never questioned. All measures taken by the caretaker government were thus subsequently ratified in 1991 by the popularly elected Fifth Jatiya Sangsad.
5.3 Caretaker government, 1996
In 1990 the demand for caretaker government was raised by the mainstream opposition political parties with the immediate objective of removing Ershad government from power and restoring democracy through fair polls. Thus any future necessity for such caretaker administration during elections was not considered by the Joint Declaration of the opposition. Although there was a proposal from the left parties for conducting subsequent three elections under a caretaker government, this was not supported by the two major parties, awami league and bangladesh nationalist party (BNP).
In 1991, the restoration of parliamentary system on the basis of consensus marked a positive development. But soon disagreements on major national issues, mutual intolerance and lack of trust among the competing parties confirmed that the issue of caretaker government became the central theme of Bangladesh politics only two years after the reintroduction of parliamentary democracy. The opposition through sustained boycott of the Sangsad and frequent hartals tried to force the ruling party to accept their demand.
At the initial phase of their movement, opposition parties did not have unanimity with regard to the framework of the proposed caretaker government. This was visualized by three separate bills submitted by the jamaat-e-islami bangladesh, Awami League and jatiya party to the parliamentary secretariat in 1991, October 1993 and mid November 1993 respectively. The essence of these bills was more or less similar, but differed on selection of the head of the caretaker government. While Awami League was in favour of appointing the Chief Justice as the head of the interim government, Jatiya Party proposed for selecting a neutral person as the head of the caretaker government, and Jamaat-e-Islami demanded for forming an advisory council headed by a neutral person to be appointed by the president. These bills, however, were not placed in the Jatiya Sangsad because of opposition boycott of the Sangsad and government’s reluctance to consider the case. This made the three major opposition parties to come closer and materialize their caretaker demand through agitation and hartals. To press the ruling party, they went to the extent of submitting en masse resignation of 147 opposition parliamentarian on 28 December 1994.
In the face of continuous agitation of the combined opposition, the Fifth Sangsad was dissolved and preparations were underway for forming the Sixth Sangsad to enact constitutional amendment for caretaker government. Having failed to convince the mainstream opposition, the ruling BNP moved unilaterally to legalise the caretaker government after the Sixth Jatiya Sangsad was constituted on 19 March 1996. Thus on 21 March 1996 the Thirteenth Amendment bill was raised in the Sangsad, and on 26 March 1996 it was passed by 268-0 vote. With the passage of Thirteenth Amendment, Articles 58(B) (C) (D) (E) were included in the constitution which keep the following major provisions regarding caretaker government: (a) after the dissolution of the parliament there will be an 11-member non-party caretaker government headed by the Chief Adviser; (b) the caretaker government will be collectively responsible to the President; (c) the Chief Adviser will be appointed by the head of the state while other ten Advisers will be selected as per advice of the Chief Adviser; (d) the Chief Adviser will hold the status of Prime Minister while an Adviser will enjoy the status of a minister; (e) the non-party caretaker government will discharge its functions as an interim government and will carry on routine jobs, except in the case of necessity it will not make any policy decisions; (f) the caretaker government will assist the Election Commission to hold general polls impartially, fairly and peacefully; (g) this caretaker government will be dissolved on the date a new Prime Minister assumes his office. After formalizing the measures for caretaker government and in the midst of massive opposition agitation, the controversial Sixth Jatiya Sangsad was dissolved on 30 March 1996. Subsequently a caretaker government was formed under the Thirteenth Amendment and the former Chief Justice, Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman, took over the charge as the Chief Adviser. Four days later on 3 April 1996, ten distinguished personalities were sworn in as the Advisers of the caretaker government. The caretaker government successfully discharged its duty of holding the free and fair seventh constitutional parliamentary election on 12 June 1996, and continued in office till 23 June 1996, when the newly elected Awami League led by sheikh hasina formed the government.
5.4 Caretaker government of 2001
2001Following are the provision for caretaker government through Thirteen Amendment of the Constitution the third caretaker government was formed on 15 July 2001 and the former Chief Justice, Justice Latifur Rahman, took over charge as the Chief Adviser. After two days, ten Advisers of the caretaker government were sworn in. The caretaker government discharged its prime duty of holding the eighth parliamentary election on 1 October 2001, and continued in office till 10 October 2001 when the new elected BNP government led by begum khaleda zia assumed state power. The neutral caretaker governments of Bangladesh had been the products of intense opposition movement centering on the forceful demand for free and fair general polls. By legalizing caretaker government through Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution in 1996, Bangladesh has founded a unique example in the existing parliamentary systems.
5.5 Caretaker Government of 2006-08
The national election of Bangladesh was held on 29 December 2008 under the Caretaker government formed with Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed as the Chief Adviser on 13 January 2007. This was the third Caretaker government formed after the tenure of the government of prime minister Khaleda Zia ended in October 2006. The Caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed functioned without legislative authority as it continued to function after its scheduled tenure of 120 days ended on 12 May 2007. All decisions taken after this date must be ratified by the parliament for the sake of legitimacy.
The Caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed was a military controlled and has made extensive use of the military to stymie the chaos that proceeded the 11th of January, 2007. From the very outset however, the government made it clear that they were there not only arrange a free and fair election, but also to make sure that all aspects that are connected to it are reviewed properly. This meant major reforms in the election system, but also making sure that corrupt candidates could not take part in the election.
The task was however an enormous one, since Bangladesh is regarded as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Therefore, the government had exceeded its mandated term, which according to the constitution allows it to stay only for 90 days.
In defiance of the Constitutional provision the Caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed postponed the national election 29 December, 2008.
There has been a major change in the election system as the caretaker government has introduced Voter ID cards (with photograph) for the first time. The Bangladesh Army including members of other military forces were deployed throughout the nation including the remotest areas. They were equipped with laptops, and small digital cameras in an effort that would result in the most orderly voter’s list in Bangladesh’s history.
The government had also made significant advances in their drive to bring corrupted politicians to justice. The anti-corruption unit of the government known as Durniti Domon Commission (DUDOC) was able to incriminate a large number of politicians including former Prime Ministers and Chairpersons of the two major parties – Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina.
Initial reactions of the public were welcoming. The arrests of corrupt prominent politicians led many to believe that a new political age was imminent. However, no new major parties came into the scene, and now the work of the anti-corruption unit is coming undone as many of the politicians are being released from prison. This has also ended prospects for reform within the major parties since the old leaders have returned to their former positions, and positively gotten rid of reformers.
People who had opposed the government’s prolonged stay have mostly been members of the two major parties. Members of the public in general understood the reasons and necessity for the government’ actions.
The television media has reported events throughout the term in a mostly robotic manner. There has been little questioning of the leaders who have been incriminated with an array of corruption charges, and who are now on the verge of returning to power. It should be noted that almost all of the nation’s television channels are owned by members from one of the two major parties.
An election was scheduled for the end of 2006; however it did not take place. The caretaker government was accused of BNP bias by Hasina and her coalition, who fomented nationwide protests and shutdowns. In January 2007, the head of the caretaker government stepped down, many believe under pressure from the military.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, former World Bank economist, was selected to replace him and has committed himself to rooting out corruption and preparing a better voter list. Emergency law was declared and a massive campaign to crack down on corruption is underway. By July 2007 some 200,000 people had been arrested. The government says it will hold elections before the end of 2008.
In April, Ahmed’s administration attempted to reform the political parties by exiling Hasina and Zia, but they backed down amid domestic and international protestations. Hasina, who had been visiting her children in the US, was allowed to return but she faced serious charges, including involvement in the assassination of four political rivals. In July, she was taken into custody after two businessmen testified that she had extorted 80 million taka (US$1.16 million) from them.<href=”#cite_note-11″> This provoked angry protests from her supporters; even her bitter rival Khalida Zia, as well as six British MPs and MEPs, called for her release. Khaleda herself faces charges of tax evasion.
Chief Advisers since 1991
- Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed – Election of 1991
- Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman – Election of 1996
- Justice Latifur Rahman – Eleciton of 2001
- Justice Fazlul Haque – resigned
- Professor Iajuddin Ahmad – was compelled to resign
- Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmad – Election of 2008
5.5.1 Biased Caretaker Government Brings Bangladesh on the Verge of Constitutional Crisis
After the end of five year term of the Khaleda Zia government in Bangladesh the country was supposed to prepare for the elections under a caretaker government. But the deliberate attempt of the immediate past government to manipulate the caretaker government, Election Commission, voter list and the administration has created a politically volatile situation in Bangladesh. Despite all this, for a while, it looked like that both the leading parties BNP and the Awami League would be able to tie over these difficulties. Unfortunately, so far this has not happened. The Bangladesh president who also doubles up as the chief advisor to the caretaker government reneged on the compromise deal which he had offered to the opposition alliance demanding electoral reforms. The president is now acting in a manner which shows that he has taken charge of the Caretaker Government (CTG) to implement the agenda of his political masters from the BNP and Jamaat. Probably, with this aim he has also called out army on the pretext of maintaining law and order. Though president is once again willing to negotiate with the 14-party opposition alliance, his actions are hardly above board.
Bangladesh constitution stipulates that election for the new government should be completed within three months after the end of the tenure of earlier government. These elections are to be conducted under the supervision of a neutral Caretaker Government. As of now, it looks highly unlikely that the elections in Bangladesh would be held on the schedule announced earlier. This situation might lead to a constitutional crisis in the country.
The opposition in Bangladesh had sensed much earlier, the intention of Khaleda Zia government to manipulate the system prescribed by the constitution. The government was making changes in several laws so that its chosen persons could take charge of these bodies. To nullify this game plan of BNP and Jamaat, the opposition groups have been demanding electoral reforms. As expected these demands were promptly rejected by the Khaleda Zia government.
What was worse, making a mockery of Bangladesh constitution, Khaleda Zia government handed over power to the president after making him the chief advisor of the CTG. The constitution provides several alternatives before the president assumes this charge. The present president, Iajuddin Ahmed has been elected by the BNP and Jamaat. Hence, his neutrality as chief advisor to the CTG was always in doubt.
The Awami League initially strongly protested the assumption of post of Chief Advisor of CTG by the president. But later, it decided to give president a chance hoping that he might act neutrally because of the strain that had developed between him and the Khaleda Zia government towards the end of the regime. Khaleda had tried to replace the president by Speaker Barrister Jamiruddin Sarker who became president-in-charge of the country. Iajuddin Ahmed was declared unfit on the health grounds. In the past, the BNP had forced Badruddoza Chowdhury to step down from the presidency in 2002. Awami League probably also agreed, because no other mutually acceptable candidate was available.
The president initially tried to fool people by making superficial changes in administration. But very soon his bias became obvious. Though president appointed ten other advisors as mentioned in the constitution, he gave them insignificant portfolios and kept the most important ones with himself.
The Awami League had stated that it would judge the president on the basis of his actions. Hasina demanded immediate removal of Chief Election Commissioner MA Aziz and three other election commissioners, cancellation of “political” appointment of 300 upazila election officers using transparent ballot box for the polls, preparing the voter lists with voters’ photographs, and overall congenial atmosphere for a free and fair election. She expected the president to carry out these demands in order to protect people’s democratic rights to voting.
The BNP, however, was not willing to allow president this liberty. It asked president that removing election commissioners would be violation of constitution. The party suggested him not to do anything BNP and Jamaat, the EC came out with a hastily decided election schedule.
With great difficulty, Chief Election Commissioner M.A. Aziz agreed to proceed on leave. Still the EC could not be depoliticized as there were three other commissioners – Justice Mahfuzur Rahman, SM Zakaria and Mahmud Hasan Mansur. These election commissioners were initially willing to resign but afterwards they changed their mind under pressure, probably from the BNP.
The president has been embroiled in controversy since he took charge of chief advisor to the caretaker government. He had earlier unilaterally decided twice to deploy army, appointed two election commissioners, allegedly forced the Election Commission (EC) to announce the election schedule hurriedly and addressed the nation, keeping all the advisers in the dark about those. Such actions triggered a wave of controversy and deepened the political stalemate.
As the advisors were suggested by various political groups on the request of the president, some of them tried to sincerely work for the holding of free and fair elections. The council of advisers in a last ditch effort to resolve the political crisis prepared a package of proposals after a series of hectic meetings between the advisers and the two major political alliances. The proposals include reconstitution of the EC by sending election commissioners SM Zakaria and Modabbir Hossain Chowdhury on leave and appointing new election commissioners, transfer of secretaries, rescheduling of the announced election schedule and correction of errors of the updated voter list.
The package proposal gave hope to the people of an amicable resolution of the dispute as the BNP also agreed with it and the Awami League led 14-party started moving towards election, shunning street agitation.
Unfortunately, all this effort was wasted when the BNP-led four-party alliance opposed sending of Zakaria on leave. Similarly, president also became adamantly opposed to steps to make Zakaria take time off work. President, being a BNP man could not have been expected to go against what the party was saying. President under pressure from the BNP reneged from implementing the package deal. This forced Awami League to reconsider its earlier decision of participating in the elections.
The advisers however kept continuing their effort to reach an amicable solution to the issue of recasting the EC through further negotiation with the political parties. But the discussions among the advisers to implement the package proposals fully virtually fizzled out on December 9, when the president decided on his own to deploy the armed forces, ignoring strong objections from all the ten advisors.
This was one more unilateral, controversial decision of the president. He had called out the army 44 days before the election presumably to assist the civilian administration. The army in Bangladesh has a dubious record in maintaining the law and order. Last time, army was called out in 2002 as part of the ‘Operation Clean Heart”. In this operation, at least 50 people had lost their lives in custody. The army termed all these deaths as ‘heart failures.’ Army in Bangladesh is known for massive human rights violation. What is worse, during her tenure, Khaleda Zia has managed to further politicize army. She hopes that the involvement of army in the election process will help her candidates.
|The US based Human Rights Watch in a recent report has stated that Bangladesh’s elite security force, the Rapid Action Battalions has killed more than 350 people in custody and could be used by the country’s former ruling party ahead of next month’s election. The group said, “Human Rights Watch is concerned that Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which maintains great influence over the caretaker government and its security structures, may use RAB for political means during the campaign.”|
President and Chief Adviser Iajuddin Ahmed’s decision to deploy troops and his unwillingness to recast the Election Commission (EC) in line with the package proposal forced four advisors – Akbar Ali Khan, Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury, CM Shafi Sami and Sultana Kamal – to resign. This development further deepened the political crisis in Bangladesh.
|President Ahmed however surprised everybody by significantly changing his earlier order on December 13. In the latest order, now he has asked the armed forces to remain on ‘stand by’ but not to actively engage in law enforcement. He has also promised that he would re-initiate moves to send two ‘controversial’ election commissioners on leave.|
The international community, including the EU and the US are closely watching the developments in Bangladesh. They are interested in making these elections free and fair. The EC in Bangladesh has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the European Union (EU) on sending an EU election observer team. The US Ambassador Patricia A Butenis however, considers the demand of some political parties’ for resignation of the president from the office of chief adviser (CA) as ‘impractical’.
Meanwhile, the Awami League (AL) has also started making all-out preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections although almost all its top leaders are against contesting the polls under the caretaker government led by President and Chief Adviser Iajuddin Ahmed. The AL and its allies–11-party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, and National Awami Party–will hold a grand rally in the capital Dhaka on December 18 where Hasina will make a formal announcement over the election.
The controversial actions of president have proved beyond doubt that he has accepted the post of chief advisor to the CTG to further the interests of BNP alliance in the upcoming elections. It is difficult to hold a free and fair election under him. Hence the opposition alliance, which was earlier opposed to the politicized elections commission, now wants removal of the president from the post of chief advisor. Even Ershad who was earlier trying to negotiate a political alliance with the BNP led group now says that he would not participate in elections, in case any major political group boycotts it. But any drastic reorganization of caretaker government in Bangladesh at this juncture is highly unlikely. It appears that the Awami League led opposition alliance will have to come to terms with the present caretaker government. At best, with the help of monitors sent by the countries like the EU and the US it can try to keep this partisan caretaker government in check. The political scenario in Bangladesh is changing almost everyday thanks to the partisan president whose indiscreet actions could push the country into complete turmoil.
5.5.2 Last Caretaker Government in Bangladesh
The end of 2007 saw the military backed caretaker regime completing its first year in b existence raising hopes and anxiety, of returning to the democratic process in the near future. The military takeover was the outcome of the violence and chaos perpetrated by rival political parties leading to the declaration of emergency and cancellation of ninth parliamentary elections in the country.
The ninth parliamentary election, though fixed for January 22, 2007, was troubled from the beginning. Even before the elections dates were announced, t he opposition parties were complaining of foul play in the election process. The controversy centered on the appointment of Chief Advisor of the Caretaker Government.
The Caretaker government (CG) is a unique feature of Bangladesh’s democracy, inducted into the country’s Constitution by the 13th Amendment in March 1996. According to the Constitution, the non-partisan Caretaker Government will be formed within 15days of the desolation of the Parliament and the President “shall appoint as Chief Adviser the person who among the retired Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired last [Article 58 C]. If this was not possible the Constitution suggests “the Chief Justices of Bangladesh retired next before the last retired Chief Justice, or the retired Judges of the Appellate Division who retired last or the retired Judges of the Appellate Division retired next before the last such retired Judge” could be appointed as head of the Caretaker Government. If these options are not available or not feasible, the President “shall, after consultation, as far as practicable, with the major political parties, appoint the Chief Adviser from among citizens of Bangladesh.
As per Constitution, Justice KM Hasan, the last retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was to be the Chief Advisor of the caretaker government. But, opposition parties objected to Hasan’s candidature primarily due to his proximity with Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP )the Khaleda Zia government had increased the retirement age of Chief Justice from 65 to 67 by amending the Constitution in 2004 to allow Hasan to head the caretaker regime in the even of an election. Hasan quietly withdrew himself and became incommunicado. The opposition parties suggested few other names but with BNP
refusing to accept any of the names, it was left to the Army to move in and occupy the political space. When the Khaleda Zia government completed its term in the midst of chaos and violence, President. Iajuddin Ahmed quickly stepped into the void and declared himself as the Chief Advisor overlooking all other options available in the Constitution. As per the Constitution, the President can become the Chief Adviser of a Non-Partisan Caretaker Government in addition to carrying out his own functions only when he has tried all other alternatives available besides the situation has to be exceptional. The Opposition welcomed the move with caution and hoped that Iajuddin would hold free and fair election.
The trouble began soon after Iajuddin-led Caretaker Government took charge; Awami League went on a protest mode following the government’s refusal to rectify some of the partisan measures of the previous BNP government. The Opposition also accused the President of pursuing policies of the BNP government, instead of acting neutrally. The situation further deteriorated on the issue of the removal of Chief Election Commissioner who was accused of favoring BNP. The Opposition was really miffed when the election dates were announced and they intensified their protests, demanding immediate postponement of the elections. On January 7, the 18- party Opposition alliance led by Awami League (AL) decided to boycott the elections. This isolated BNP and undermined the legitimacy of the ninth parliamentary election. Large scale violence erupted across the country, forcing President Iajuddin to impose emergency on January 11 and resign from the post of Chief Advisor of the Caretaker government. Thus, a new chapter was added to Bangladesh’s tumultuous history on 1/11, as the event is popularly referred to.
On January 12, 2007, Dr.Fakruddin Ahmed, renowned economist and former Bangladesh Bank Governor, was appointed as the Chief Advisor of the military-backed caretaker
government. Although people were not overjoyed by the move, it brought a sense of relief from the continuing violence.
Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed’s government is the country’s second caretaker government since October 2006. This government enjoys the mandate of the Bangladesh Army. The main objective of the government as declared by Fakruddin Ahmed (on January 11, 2008) is to hold free, fair and credible election.
The Constitutional validity of the government, however, is questionable. As per Bangladesh’s Constitution, “a Caretaker Government should have been constituted within 15 days of the dissolution of the Jatiya Sangsad and should be in a position to hand over powers to a duly constituted popular government within 90 days after the dissolution of the previous parliament.”2. Hence, already, this government has completed the stipulated time limit that qualifies itself to be a caretaker government. However, observers of Bangladesh’s politics suggest that since the main objective of this government is to hold election, therefore, it can be called a caretaker government. This is one of the distinctive features of this government. Unlike previous such caretaker regimes, the present government’s administrative and development initiatives also show a determination to prevent the country from slipping another round of chaos and violence and to hold a credible and fair election.
The law and order situation has certainly improved in the past one year. There were no major incidents of hartal (protests), strikes and political violence. Establishment of Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) and similar actions against corruption have drawn public support. The prosecution of some of the high and mighty in corruption cases has encouraged public support for the actions of the government.
The reconstitution of a non-partisan Election Commission has added to the government’s credibility and image. The commission has already started working on holding t he elections in December 2008. The government is also working on separating Election
Commission Secretariat from the Prime Ministers Office. Another development that has gone down well with the people was the government decision to come down heavily on t he extremist groups and leaders. The militant leader of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) Bangla Bhai and five of his associates were executed in March end 2007. The government also took measures to streamline the power sector, improving the power generation and distribution much to the relief of the ordinary people. Despite such positive development the government faced some criticisms, specially, dealing with political parties, daunting economic situation and the overwhelming influence of the armed forces.
The economy fared badly last year. Inflation crossed more than 11%. A declining trend was noticed almost in all sectors of the economy, viz: – industrial investment, volume of agricultural product and exports. No fresh job opportunities were created in the last one year and the prices skyrocketed. The industry blamed the government for the down spiral; they said it was caused by the prevailing sense of uncertainty and the government’s crackdown on corruption. The government also came in for criticism for its failure to control the prices which affected the common man the most. Inflation could become a major issue in the elections.
Role of Military
The government remained in the shadow of the Army Though the caretaker government was at pains to give the impressing on that it remained free of the Army, it was Army Chief Moeen Ahmed who is ultimately calling the shot s, Chief Advisor Fakhruddin remained a puppet of the Army. In fact, Army’s dominance in the present government has raised concern about the prospect of democracy in the country. The government was heavily criticized for sending intelligence officials to the house of the professors who were arrested in August 2007. Though the Army Chief had declared that he was not keen on grabbing power, it has been met widespread skepticism. People fear that the Army might just stay back in the saddle and delay the restoration of democracy. The caretaker government enjoyed support and recognition from major powers. In fact, envoys of the United States and Great Britain played influential role in 1/11. However, no major policy change was noticed in the last one year. It received generous support and aids from the international community to deal with two floods and a cyclone in November that devastated the country. There were other significant events which impacted the country’s external relations arrival of the US Marine to help Bangladesh to carry out relief and rescue operations after the Sidr Cyclone in November 2007, Bangladesh’s Foreign Affair Advisor, Iftekhar Ahmed’s visit to Russia, primarily to seek help in setting up a nuclear power plant, and irritants in the relations with Malays is over the migrant labor issue. Finally, In December 2008 9th National Election was held.
5.5.3 Bangladesh Caretaker Government Targets Dynastic Politics
Endless political hostility between the two main political alliances has been seen by many as the root cause of several ills plaguing Bangladesh. The caretaker government in this country, after targeting corruption, corrupt politicians and Islamist militants, now appears to be acting against the dynastic rulers of Bangladesh who have alternated in power. With this objective extortion and murder charges have been leveled against Shaikh Hasina. Khaleda Zia and her two sons are already in trouble with various corruption charges. The predicament of these political giants seems to be a matter of joy for the people of Bangladesh who have suffered at the hands of these politicians. At the same time, these actions are creating a political vacuum in the country. It is feared that this vacuum might be occupied by forces which may not be democratic.
Bangladeshis went into jubilation when the heir apparent of the BNP, Tariq Rahman was arrested. Rahman during the tenure of the BNP led alliance was seen as the most important extra-constitutional power centre in Bangladesh without whose support no major decision was taken in the country. He was considered as the most corrupt person in the country. Tariq was widely expected to succeed Khaleda Zia in near future. People in Bangladesh were pleasantly surprised when law caught up with Tariq Rahman and he was put behind bars.
Immediate provocation for the arrest of Tariq Rahman on March 8 was an extortion case filed by a fellow BNP member who also happened to be a leading businessman. Tarique was charged with extortion of Taka one core from a construction firm, Al-Amin Construction, a concern of Amin Mohammad Foundation. Earlier the army-led joint forces had recovered a good amount of relief materials including quilts and pipes from the prime minister’s relief fund from the residence of Tarique Rahman. Government’s relief material was also seized from the houses and business establishments of many former BNP and Jamaat lawmakers.
During interrogation Tarique Rahman admitted to having bank accounts in five countries–Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa and Switzerland. He also disclosed names of some top ‘Hawa Bhaban men’ who used to control major businesses and look after his bank accounts. Tariq also revealed about his investments in several foreign countries including South Africa and Malaysia.
Action against Tariq Rahman and many other politicians belonging to both the BNP and Awami League was appreciated by the people of Bangladesh. They thought that this will give a serious blow to corruption and might free the politics from it. The action against Islamist militants was similarly appreciated.
The country, however was surprised when a similar extortion charge was leveled on April 9, 2007 against the former prime minister Shaikh Hasina who is also the leader of Awami League led political alliance in Bangladesh. The case was filed with Tejgaon police station under the non-bailable sections of the penal code by Tajul Islam Farook, chairman of Westmont Power Company. In this case Tajul brought allegations against Hasina of extortion of 30 million taka (USD 434,000) and abuse of power in 1998, when she was the prime minister.
This charge was soon followed by a separate charge of murder. Hasina was charged for killing six persons in a political clash on October 28, 2006, the day when Prime Minister Khaleda Zia relinquished power in favor of a caretaker government. Fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, the main partner of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led four party alliance, had filed the case in which Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil was also accused of involvement in the incident. Along with Hasina, 45 leaders and workers of her party and the other 14-party have been charged. They include Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil, former home minister Mohammad Nasim, General Secretary of Awami League Dhaka city unit Mofazzel Hossain Chowdhury Maya, Awami League Law Secretary Advocate Sahara Khatun, former lawmakers HBM Iqbal and Haji Selim, Juba League President Jahangir Kabir Nanok, Chhattra League General Secretary Mofazzal Haider Chowdhury Roton, Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon, and JSD President Hasanul Haque Inu. Jammat Chief Matiur Rahman Nizami has also been charged in the same case along with nine other leaders of his party.
The charges brought against Hasina and her colleagues are for unlawful assembly, inflicting injuries ranging from minor to grievous on people, murder, attempt to murder, and for aiding and abetting criminal activities.
Sheikh Hasina wanted to return to the country to face those charges but was persuaded to postpone it. According to Awami League General Secretary this decision was taken after a responsible person in the government assured her that the government will take necessary measures not to tarnish her honor and image.
In the corruption ridden politics of Bangladesh, charges of this kind are not surprising. What surprised most Bangladeshis was the timing of these charges. Few days before, Shaikh Hasina in a media interview had criticized the caretaker government for delaying elections in Bangladesh. She was especially critical of 18 month time-table which the EC had announced for updating the voter list. The chief election commissioner on April 5 said no elections would be held before at least 18 months, as that time is required to simultaneously prepare the voter list with photographs and national ID cards. These 18 months would end in October 2008.