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      Volume 11 |Issue 22| June 01, 2012 |


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Current Affairs

Photo: Star File

The Bone of Contention

Shakhawat Liton

Independent lawmaker Fazlul Azim was a lone member on the opposition bench as the Parliament went into the budget session last week. At the fag end of Sunday's sitting, he took the floor on a point of order and spoke about the current political situation.

He criticised the government for launching a crackdown on the opposition leader. In his view, the government will not be able to foil the opposition movement by intensifying the represession on opposition leaders and activists. Azim however spoke for a solution to the crisis and said that the nation would face dire consequnces if the ongoing political standoff over the issue of the caretaker government continued.

Neither any minister nor any ruling AL-led alliance MP responded to Azim. It was Speaker Abdul Hamid, who urged the main opposition BNP to place its proposals in the parliament, outlining the system under which the next parliamentary election should be held.

“If they [opposition] come up with proposals in the House, I can ask the government to respond. I can even organise a discussion on the proposals here,” Hamid said.

What the Speaker said was nothing new. In fact, he spoke in line with the stance of his party Awami League. It is clear that without the ruling party's green signal the Speaker would not take any step to resolve even the parliamentary standoff. It would be whimsical to think that the Speaker would take steps to mediate talks between ruling and opposition camps to resolve the political standoff following the cancellation of the caretaker government system. The Speakership in Bangladesh has yet to be developed into such a level that can truly represent the House of the nation.

However, a few hours before the Speaker responded to Fazlul Azim, his party's General Secretary and LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam asked the opposition to come up with a proposal if they had any on the interim government system. “The next parliamentary election will be held under an interim government and political parties will determine the process,”Ashraf said.

Ashraf has made it clear that neither his party nor the government will come up with any proposal outlining the structure of the interim government. So, the opposition parties will have to come up with the proposal, as if the onus now lies on the opposition. But the BNP-led opposition will not make any proposal until or unless they get any formal or informal assurance from the government. The opposition has already announced that the government will have to announce first that it agrees with the idea of installing a non-partisan government during the election time.

The constitutional amendment that scrapped the caretaker government system has also introduced a peculiar system in the constitution. As per this pecuiliar system, the current parliament will exist during the next parliamentary polls. Because, in line with the new constitutional provision the polls for the next Jatiya Sangsad will be held within 90 days prior to the expiry of the tenure of the current ninth parliament, which means the current parliament will complete its five-year-tenure on January 24, 2014 and the next polls will be held any time between October 27, 2013 and January 24, 2014. (In case of sudden dissolution of the House, the election will be held within 90 days after the dissolution.) Existence of the current parliament means all of its MPs will remain in office when they contest the parliamentary polls.

In the UK, the birthplace of the Westminster style democracy, the parliament is dissolved before holding of the polls to elect MPs for the House of Commons.

India, the largest parliamentary democracy in the world, follows the same system. The parliamentary election is held after the Lok Sabha is dissolved. And during the period of polls, the cabinet led, by the prime minister, acts like a caretaker government that only continues routine works and refrains from taking policy decisions. The Election Commission conducts the polls.

In New Zealand, Canada and Australia also, elections are held after the parliament is dissolved.

If Ashraf and his party really want to demonstrate their sincerity to hold the next parliamentary polls the way other democratic countries do it, they must take steps to amend the current constitutional provision and allow the polls to be held after dissolution of the parliament. And it must be done without linking it with the issues of either caretaker or interim government system.

What will be the structure of the interim government to be formed to oversee the polls? The ruling Awami League wants to see incumbent PM Sheikh Hasina as the chief of the interim government. But the opposition BNP will in no way accept it. In line with its stance, the AL may prefer an interim government comprised of members from the ruling and opposition parties.

But back in 1994, the AL had rejected this very formula given by Sir Ninian Stephen. Sir Ninian came to Dhaka in October that year as a special envoy from the then Commonwealth secretary general to break a political impasse between the then ruling BNP and the AL-led opposition over introduction of the caretaker government system.

According to his formula, an 11-member cabinet would be formed with the incumbent prime minister in chair. Five cabinet members would be from the ruling and five others from the opposition parties. And the interim cabinet would give all-out support to the EC to hold free and fair parliamentary polls. But this formula did not work then as the then main opposition AL did not agree with it. Now, will BNP agree with such a formula?

Before scrapping the caretaker government system in June last year, the parliamentary special committee for constitutional amendment at a meeting on May 26 discussed if the Pakistani model of caretaker government can be chosen for Bangladesh to hold two more parliamentary elections. A committee member said if the Pakistani model is chosen for Bangladesh, the president will appoint a caretaker prime minister and a caretaker cabinet on dissolution of the parliament.

The president will consult the outgoing prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the outgoing House to appoint a caretaker prime minister. Then the president will appoint members of the caretaker cabinet on advice of the caretaker prime minister.

If there is no consensus between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, the issue will be handled by a parliamentary committee to be formed with the members of the outgoing parliament. If the parliamentary body fails, the Election Commission will pick the issue to settle, as per the Pakistan constitution.

But the parliamentary special committee in Bangladesh could not flirt with the idea, as the prime minister herself took a strong stance against the caretaker government system. The option could be discussed to find a new model for the interim government.


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