The obstinacy in having caretaker government still remains with BNP as strongly as before although following the constitutional provision, a search committee has been formed and it has urged political parties to send names for Chief Election Commissioner and Commissioners. Many political parties have agreed to send names but the main opposition BNP has refused to send names. Their stand is clear; they would not participate in any election under the incumbent government. They would participate only under caretaker government. No other arrangement even it is constitutional is acceptable to them.
Now the question is how an interim caretaker government that has no constitutional basis will be the government of choice for holding an election. The experience of caretaker government is not good. None of the caretaker government could ensure a free and fair poll. Even BNP government during its tenure proved that a caretaker government even if of their choice could not ensure free and fair election. There are governments on the globe more responsible and powerful democracy where elections were being held under the incumbent government like India and UK. Bangladesh is 50 years old. Many elections have been held under military and civil governance. Almost all the elections were unacceptable. We have experienced elections under Zia, Ershad and Khaleda Zia. None of these elections were held without controversy.
The election held under caretaker government was not free and fair. 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 ensuring 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 were really frustrating. In none of those elections people could exercise their voting rights. MPs were selected by them in collaboration with NSI and DGFI. The parliament was made rubber stamp. In fact, elections held under General Zia and Ershad were farcical. The results were declared before counting the votes. The election held on February 15, 1996 through which Begum Zia got to power had to cancel because of rigging. Against this backdrop BNP is demanding introduction of caretaker government. The reason is probably to terrorise and manipulate the next election.
There is a constitution in the country. The country is being run by that. The constitution stipulates that for the formation of Election Commission. There should be a law to form it. This is for the first time that law has been framed in the house. The BNP MPs in the house give suggestions for ratification of the law. It has been accepted unanimously in the house. The process for formation of Election Commission has just started. Now BNP obstinately say that they would not participate in the election under the present government. Since the government cease the functions during the election it even refrained from taking vital issues. EC becomes the supreme power of governance during election period. There is no reason why BNP do not want formation of Election Commission as stipulated in the constitution. In fact, the election is held under the supervision of EC not the government. Since the Election Commission has constitutional obligation to act neutrally BNP has no reason to deviate.
The first constitution was framed in 1972 by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ensuring perfect democracy as stipulated by other countries of the globe. The caretaker government is generally introduced to meet the emergency situation. How long Bangladesh should be encouraged to have to have an emergency situation?
However, the government of Sheikh Hasina abolished the caretaker government system in July 2011 allowing general elections under elected government. 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. In these circumstances no option is left for BNP except change of their mind to go for election under the present government.
Dr S A Malek is former Political Adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, Member of Awami league Advisory Council, President of Bangabandhu Parishad and a Columnist