The demand for a caretaker government has turned into a political hoax in Bangladesh. Normally in a democracy the party in power holds election through the formation of Election Commission (EC). The EC is the real authority to hold a free and fair election. In the process to form the EC through a search committee by the president the Prime Minister has a very little to say or suggest about it. All the important political parties having record of getting 15 per cent votes may be involved in to form the search committee.
The EC is formed comprising with honest and responsible persons. This was the practice last time. The president held several meetings with the leaders of political parties to form the Election Commission. The EC should function honestly and independently to hold the election. The idea is to transfer power from one political party to other who gets majority votes. In India, UK and USA this is the practice. No party in power misunderstands like that of our country where and when there is an election, the opposition demand for a caretaker government. This was a necessity exactly when the incumbent was an army. In a country where repeated elections had been held in a democratic way, the demand for a caretaker government is a slap on the face of democracy. What is our experience of a caretaker government?
Usually an outgoing government acts as the caretaker administration. But Bangladesh has deviated from this established democratic tradition. The first non-party caretaker government headed by former Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was formed in 1990 without any prior constitutional amendments. People witnessed subtle rigging during election under this government. The administrative measures including transfer of officials undertaken by the caretaker government to work for ensuring victory of BNP. All measures taken by the caretaker government were thus subsequently ratified in 1991 by the fifth Jatiya Sangsad.
In the midst of massive opposition agitation, the controversial Sixth Jatiya Sangsad was dissolved on 30 March 1996. Subsequently, the second caretaker government headed by former Chief Justice Habibur Rahman was formed under the thirteenth amendment of the constitution. Awami League won the election and formed the government on 23 June 1996. The third caretaker government headed by former Chief Justice Latifur Rahman was formed on 15 July 2001. The people witnessed administrative coup after taking over charge by this caretaker government. They worked nakedly to ensure victory of BNP and transferred 17 secretaries within one hour after taking charge. They took several administrative measures to make people understand that the governance of outgoing Awami League government was the worst. They used army and terrorised the whole country driving out Awami League activists from their areas. Finally they succeeded by ensuing victory of BNP led four-party alliance. The fourth and latest election held under army backed caretaker government headed by former governor of Bangladesh Bank Fakruddin Ahmed. The election held under this government was free and fair. It does not mean that the army backed election is being held in a free and fair manner. We have seen farcical election held under General Zia and Ershad. The elections held under these generals are really frustrating. In none of the elections people could exercise their voting rights. MPs were selected by them in collaboration with NSI and DGFI. The parliament was made rubber stamp. The generals claimed that they established democracy, but the reality was otherwise. People’s voting rights were snatched by them. General Zia is said to be a reviver of democracy that was killed by Bangabandhu as claimed by BNP. If asked what kind of democracy he did establish? The answer would be that he was such a dictator that even his Prime Minister had no right to go against his decision. MPs and ministers were his slaves. He did little care about people’s vote. In fact elections held under General Zia and Ershad were farcical. The results were declared before counting of votes is over.
However, the government of Sheikh Hasina abolished the caretaker government system in July 2011 allowing general elections under elected partisan government.
After winning in the three consecutive elections Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the founding father has been ruling the country for 13 years in a democratic way. All democratic institutions like EC, administration have been functioning well. She has taken the country to a new height. Sheikh Hasina ceaselessly fought against the military dictators, pseudo democratic and reactionary forces, the fundamentalist and the terrorists to bring Bangladesh to its present position. She saved the country from the dictators and brought it on the right track and restored democracy and all the values earned through the war of liberation.
Now the demand of the BNP is to go back to the caretaker system but the constitution does not admit it. There is no provision for a caretaker government in the present constitution. Only four members of BNP are in the parliament. So they don’t have any chance to go for amendment of the constitution to introduce caretaker system. Why should the Awami League go for such an amendment when the constitution dictates otherwise? Awami League is very firm in its position. So there is no scope for a dialogue with the opposition unless the opposition changes its mind.
Dr S A Malek is the former Political Adviser to the Prime Minister, Member of Parliament, Secretary General of Bangabandhu Parishad and Columnist