Do away with the caretaker government
THE issue of whether or not to do away with the caretaker government has surfaced once again. This time it is some of those that were the most vociferous protagonists of the idea, the AL, and for which they had successfully launched a public campaign and boycotted the parliament to drive their point home, are thinking aloud about the prospect of the system in Bangladesh.
In fact, on July 31, 2008, in this very column we had posed the question that in view of the various developments regarding the CTG, but most of all because of the prolonged stay of an unelected dispensation, whether or not it was time to have a rethink about the idea of a caretaker government.
Leaders from both the major parties are singing the same tune in suggesting that the CTG be done away with. Why this change of heart when so much was put at stake to implement a system that saw the two major parties locked in an intractable position.
If it is a case of the wise learning from their mistake it must be welcomed. If the realisation stems from the awareness that the system has failed to deliver what it was supposed to then there is there is every reason to question the rationale of the system. However, if the changed position is recognition of the inability to exploit the system to the benefit of one party or the other we must approach the issue with caution.
The present system of having an unelected body to run the affairs of the state, even for three months, as envisaged in our Constitution (or till the next election is held), is the fruit of the AL struggle. Having lost the 1991 election they felt that getting reelected in future under the ruling party, with the Election Commission secretariat an appendage of the PM's secretariat, was well nigh impossible if a "non-partisan" body was not entrusted with the task of conducting the election. AL's cue came from the first caretaker government of Justice Shahbuddin Ahmed that conducted a very successful election in 1991 following the departure of President Ershad.
However, it has to be acknowledged that the new system was a manifestation of the distrust that has guided the relationship between the two major political parties. The massage was that even after so many years of independence, although we were a new nation, we nonetheless had an experienced polity, which, regrettably, failed to behave in a responsible manner.
But has the system lived up to our expectations? If one goes by the views of the two major parties none of the elections was fair and the losing party had invariably come out with the complaint of subtle manipulation that was the cause of their defeat. None had the grace or the moral courage to accept defeat. They blamed the system, even when most others, including the voters, knew what the truth was.
We have also been made aware that the party in power can distort every system, and that every well-meaning arrangement can be manipulated to ensure that the opposition did not come to power. Even if the CTG system was a rank bad idea, it was made even worse by the way the 4-party alliance government manipulated it. For example there is the matter of the voter list revised by the previous Election Commission, which as it turned out eventually, had 15 million false voters. And there is the small matter of Tk. 60 crore that was spent to distort the voter list, a matter that everybody seems to have forgotten about.
The parties, thankfully, have come to realise that if getting a good and free and fair election, albeit "free and fair" would be defined subjectively by each party depending upon which party won, was the sole idea that motivated to have even an undemocratic system like the caretaker government, there is the flip side to an arrangement that lends itself to manipulation, both constitutional and otherwise.
As we had asserted before, two years is twenty-four months too long for a group of disparate individuals, albeit with impeccable record of academic brilliance or honesty, to fill the political vacuum, or run the affairs of the state without the inevitable hiccups. The matter is compounded when somebody else and not the CTG happens to call the shots.
I am afraid I will have to disagree with the majority (59.97) who opined in a Daily Star online opinion poll on April 29 that a CTG was a must for a free and fair election. We can do without a system that lays itself to manipulation, although in Bangladesh anything and everything can be manipulated for partisan interest.
One feels that a strong and independent Election Commission should help provide free and fair elections. The EC has been de-linked from the government, and it can be strengthened even more -- to start with having the EC secretariat under the Commission and not under the CEC, as it is presently.