We are happy to note the small beginning that Sheikh Hasina has initiated in this regard by removing from the party planning mechanism most of the ministers in the new set-up of the party committees. We feel that the distinction should not only be made; it should be enforced fully. We believe that Sheikh Hasina as the PM and Awami League party leader would be able to follow through with the change quickly.
While it is an established practice that the party winning the majority in parliament forms the government, in a parliamentary form, it is also the norm in established democratic countries that those who run the government are distinct from those who run the party. And often the leader of the house is not necessarily the party leader. And this separation is for some very good reasons. Like the three organs of the government, the parliamentary party and the party in power should be separate and distinct because they perform two separate functions: parliamentary functions and party functions.
In our case, we have seen the gradual blurring of this distinction, with the party and the government being subsumed within each other. As it stands today—and it was not any different for a good part of the last 48 years—the PM happens to be the leader of the house as well as the party chairperson.
Although the dichotomy between administration and politics is not a new phenomenon, the remedy has been adequately offered by political scientists who ascertain that there is merit in the separation. As some past practitioners of politics and statecraft, and famous in both the realms, have averred, politics and administration are inherently different and should be approached as such. And this applies more to countries like ours where politics and democracy, particularly parliamentary democracy, have had to encounter several obstacles intermittently since independence, and where politics and polity have not had the benefit of a peaceful gestation for the traditional values to be firmly grounded.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that running the government and the administration and running the party is not the same, although it is the party in power that sets the tasks for the administration. While the parliament led by the majority party is beholden and obligated to all the people, the party office-bearers work for the party only. And when that distinction is blurred, the government and the party become one single entity. And what it gives rise to is a situation where the party policymakers inside and outside the government start owning the state machinery, and when long-term policies in every field of development assume exclusively a party perspective rather than a national perspective.
Some may think that such a state is beneficial to both the party and the government, but actually no one is benefitted and both suffer. Equally worse is the impact that it has on the bureaucrats, who suffer initially from confusion but eventually conforms to the situation willy-nilly, believing that to be the order of the day. Nothing can have more serious a consequence on the state of overall governance than this.