Onus on Hasina to end stalemate

The Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina has started constituting her interim poll time government that is supposed to be in power while the election commission of Bangladesh conducts elections for a new government.

But this step has not reduced the political confusion prevailing in the country as the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has refused to join this all-party government. It is still adamant that a non-party caretaker government should be constituted to oversee elections. This differing political stance of both the major political parties in Bangladesh has created an environment of political tension for last many months. 

The term of present Sheikh Hasina led Awami League government is expiring on June 24, 2014. A new government needs to be elected before that. But the absence of consensus over the form of government  is leading to political conflict.

The past few elections in Bangladesh were conducted under the caretaker governments. Ironically, this system emerged in 1996 on demand of the Awami League after the ruling BNP tried to rig the elections. Since then all future elections were held under the caretaker government. But unfortunately, even this caretaker government system was abused by the BNP in 2006, when its term ended.

In October 2006 when the term of BNP led alliance ended it tried to place a person of its choice as head of its caretaker government. When that was opposed it made then President Iajuddin Ahmed who was a member of the BNP as head of the caretaker government violating constitutional provisions. Finally, when a caretaker government was constituted under the leadership of Fakharuddin Ahmed and consisted mostly of technocrats, army enjoyed lot of influence over it. 

This caretaker government by Fakharuddin Ahmed also violated several constitutional provisions. While the job of the caretaker government according to Bangladesh constitution was to conduct elections during the last 90 days of the government, that caretaker government actually continued for nearly two years.

What was worse, the caretaker government itself tried to damage the democracy in the country. It floated the notorious ‘minus-two-formula’ under which it tried to banish both the top Bangladeshi leaders from politics, by putting them behind bars. It also tried to float new political parties as an alternative. But they failed to take-off.

After having this nasty experience at the hands of the caretaker government, Sheikh Hasina turned against it. And after the 2008 elections, in which her government came to power with massive mandate introduced a constitutional amendment. By this 15th constitutional amendment government removed the caretaker government system. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has also given verdict against the caretaker government system, but it suggested that next two elections can be held under the caretaker government.

There is no harm, however if the caretaker government system had been abolished right away. The present confrontation emerges from the distrust that both major political parties have about each other.

Actually, now it’s right time for democratic politics in Bangladesh to evolve. Both major political parties should work to strengthen democratic institutions like the election commission. The caretaker government in Bangladesh is no panacea for the political ills of the country. The past experiences show that the caretaker system can be manipulated with equal ease. Thus instead of being stickler of the term caretaker government both side should try to make effort to hold peaceful and transparent elections.

In last couple of years Sheikh Hasina government has successfully conducted elections at several levels. The elections were held in vacant parliamentary constituencies. They were also held in municipal bodies. In many of these elections BNP emerged as winner. There is no reason why parliamentary elections for new government can’t be held under the present set-up. It’s high time that the ‘confrontational politics’ takes a back seat in Bangladesh politics and peaceful environment is created so that people of Bangladesh can exercise their franchise and elect a government of their choice.

(The writer is an associate fellow at Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses)

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