Struggle for democracy: Bangladesh and Pakistan perspectives
The next national polls in Pakistan are scheduled for early next year while the national ballots in Bangladesh will be held anytime between October 2013 and January 2014 as per the existing constitutional provisions of the two countries respectively.
The latest constitutional changes in the two countries, however, set their domestic politics on different directions and both the countries are moving ahead amid fear of possible political uncertainty ahead of the national ballots.
After separation in 1971, when Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) emerged as an independent country, both countries had experienced military rule twice. The military generals' high political ambition was largely responsible for the long military rule in the two countries.
Bangladesh, where two elected parliaments completed their tenures after restoration of democracy through a mass upsurge against military dictator General Ershad, is now facing new challenge in the continuation of democratic process. The unilateral cancellation of the non-partisan caretaker government system by the Awami League-led government in 2011 triggered fear of a possible political unrest before the next parliamentary polls. The abolishing of the system paved the way for the current government to remain in office during the next polls. But BNP-led opposition camps rejected the constitutional amendment, and announced that they would boycott the polls if held under the AL-led government.
If the prevailing political standoff remains unresolved, Bangladesh will certainly face a political turmoil ahead and during the next parliamentary polls.
The situation is different now in Pakistan, a country that was labeled as a "failed state." Pakistan, which is still struggling for democracy, is going towards a rare achievementits national assembly is set to complete its tenure in February next year for the first time since the country came into existence in 1947. Amid growing uncertainty over the future political landscape, the incumbent federal government in Pakistan brought various constitutional reforms by amending the constitution thrice during its tenure since assumption of office in early 2008. The very crucial and significant amendment was brought to the constitution in early of 2010. A year before the Bangladesh Parliament scrapped the non-partisan caretaker government system the Pakistan national assembly had improved to a great extent their interim government system by amending the constitution through a rare consensus between the ruling and opposition parties.
Before the constitutional amendment in 2010, Pakistan's constitution had given the country's president sweeping authority to appoint an interim/caretaker prime minister and a cabinet on dissolution of the national assembly. The interim cabinet was supposed to run the country during the parliamentary polls. In fact, how the interim cabinet would be formed was at the sole discretion of the president, and if the system had been retained it could have benefited the ruling party during the next parliamentary polls.
But the latest constitutional amendment did something different. Now, on dissolution of the national assembly on completion of its term, or in case it is dissolved earlier, the president shall appoint a caretaker prime minister in consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the outgoing national assembly. If there is no consensus between the prime minister and leader of the opposition, then what will happen? The latest changes in the constitution have the answer.
If the prime minister and leader of the opposition do not agree on any person to be appointed as a caretaker prime minister, then within three days of the dissolution of the national assembly they shall forward two nominees each to a parliamentary committee to be immediately formed by the Speaker of the outgoing national assembly, comprising eight members of the outgoing national assembly, or the senate or the both, having equal representation from the treasury and the opposition bench, to be nominated by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition respectively. The committee constituted shall finalise the name of the caretaker PM within three days of the referral of the matter.
In case of inability of the committee to decide the matter in the aforesaid period, the names of the nominees shall be referred to the Election Commission of Pakistan for final decision within two days.
The process of formation of the EC in Pakistan is not like the one in Bangladesh. None of the successive governments in Bangladesh moved to enact a law in line with the constitutional provision to outline the procedure for formation of an EC acceptable to all. In absence of a law, it is the government's discretion to make the appointments to form the EC. And, in the past, all the political governments formed the EC by making the appointments with their own choices and never consulted with the opposition parties. So, controversy has been a common phenomenon in Bangladesh over the formation of EC. The present government in its electoral pledges promised to constitute the EC on consensus, but finally it made the appointment unilaterally in February this year.
In Pakistan, the latest constitutional changes have done something important to establish a truly independent and controversy free EC. The president shall appoint a chief election commissioner. But the appointment must be on consensus. How? The 2010 amendment to the constitution says the prime minister shall in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the national assembly, forward three names for appointment of CEC to a parliamentary committee for hearing and confirmation of any person who will be appointed as CEC by the president.
The parliamentary committee to be constituted by the Speaker shall comprise fifty percent members from the treasury bench and fifty percent from the opposition parties, based on their strength in parliament, to be nominated by the respective parliamentary party leaders.
In case there is no consensus between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, each shall forward separate lists to the parliamentary committee for consideration, which may confirm any one name. And then the president will appoint him as the CEC. A similar procedure is followed to appoint members of the EC.
The major changes in the constitution were brought through a consensus between the ruling and opposition parties only to avert the military takeover and to keep continuation of practice of the democratic process uninterrupted.
Information minister of Sindh provincial government Shazia Marri sees things in different way. During a visit to Karachi recently, this correspondent talked to her. In her words, Pakistan is now struggling for democracy.
But growing political animosities between ruling and opposition parties and alarming escalation of political violence, terrorism and targeted killings spark uncertainty over the fate of "struggle for democracy." Given the anarchic and unpleasant way in which Pakistan's political parties conduct themselves, many people fear that there are bound to be grounds for a military intervention in the future. Now the crucial question iswill Pakistan's civilian leaders be able to keep continuation of democratic process uninterrupted? Or will history repeat itselfmilitary rule again?