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Caretaker Government


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 organising general polls has been observed.

Caretaker government of 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.

Caretaker government of 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 visualised 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 materialise 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 parliamentarians 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 Sangsad 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 formalising 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 of the Constitution, 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 govrnment.

Caretaker government of 2001 Following 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 legalising caretaker government through Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution in 1996, Bangladesh has founded a unique example in the existing parliamentary systems.

Caretaker government of 2006-7 After the completion of the tenure of the BNP government in October 2006 there was a great disagreement over the formation of caretaker government, and violence engulfed the country including the capital city, Dhaka. In such volatile situation the last retired chief justice declared his unwillingness to become the chief adviser of the next caretaker government. Subsequently, the President of the Republic, Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed himself took over the charge of the chief adviser and constituted the council of advisers. The date of the ninth parliamentary elections was fixed on 22nd January, 2007. However, apprehensions and doubts on the holding of free fair polls continued unabated, and during this time a dialogue on electoral reforms between the two major contending political parties, BNP and Awami League, failed which led to massive violence and clash all over the country. Faced with such grave crisis, President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency on 1 January 2007 and the proposed elections were cancelled. He thus stepped down from the post of chief adviser, and another caretaker government led by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed was formed. The new caretaker government declared a road map for holding the above polls by December 2008 and embarked upon a number of reform measures. Ultimately, on 29 December 2008 the ninth parliamentary elections were held and the caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed continued in office till 3 January 2009 when the grand alliance led by Sheikh Hasina assumed the state power and formed the cabinet. [Al Masud Hasanuzzaman]

Bibliography AM Hasanuzzaman, Role of Opposition in Bangladesh Politics, University Press Limited, 1998; MR Khan, Shangbidhan O Tattvabadhayak Sarkar Bitarka, Dhaka City Prakashani, 1995; AM Hasanuzzaman, Bangladeshey Sangsadiya Ganatantra, Rajniti O Prashasan, 1991-2007, Dhaka University Press Limited, 2009.