EC talks with parties: Supervisory govt sought for polls

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"The caretaker government system is now a thing of the past, a closed chapter."

— AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader

Nearly half of the 39 registered political parties are in favour of a polls-time government under interim, caretaker or all-party system for ensuring a participatory and credible parliamentary election. 

Ten out of the 28 parties that joined a series of dialogue organised by the Election Commission and eight out of the nine parties that skipped the talks demand such forms of polls-time government.

Twelve parties, including Jatiya Party (Ershad), the main opposition in parliament, said nothing about the matter.

The country has seen a lot of conflicts and chaos over the issue of election-time government with the two major parties, the Awami League and the BNP, diametrically opposed. 

The BNP, which boycotted the talks with the EC, continues to demand a neutral  government as it believes free and fair parliamentary polls are not possible under the AL rule. 

Party's Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on July 24 called for a handover of power to a neutral caretaker government and formation of a new Election Commission to ensure a participatory election.

The AL leaders, on the other hand, categorically said the next general election will take place under the current government and there is no scope for a caretaker system.

"The caretaker government system is now a thing of the past, a closed chapter," AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader said while taking part in a dialogue with the EC yesterday.

The Supreme Court declared the caretaker government system "unconstitutional and illegal", Quader said, adding that the last two elections were held very much within a constitutional framework.

In November 2013, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed a polls-time cabinet of 29 ministers with MPs from the AL, the JP and the Workers Party ahead of January 5, 2014 national polls, boycotted by the BNP and its allies.

No such government was formed for the last parliamentary election held on December 30, 2018. The BNP this time participated in the election under the banner of Jatiya Oikya Front.     

In talks with Bangladesh Jatiya Party at his EC office on July 21, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said, "You [political parties] have different kinds of proposals regarding all-party government, election-time government, caretaker government … These are political issues. You should place your demands before the government and let the government understand how much pressure is there ..."

The EC would inform the government about the demands, he said, adding, "These are political issues, constitutional intervention may be required."

Asked about the proposals for an election-time government, Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retired) Ahsan Habib Khan yesterday said the demands that fall under the government's jurisdiction will be forwarded to it.

The EC held talks with 28 registered political parties since July 17 to seek suggestions on how to hold a free and fair national election, either in late December 2023 or early January 2024.

Two parties sought rescheduling of talks citing different reasons.

Nine political parties including the BNP abstained from joining the talks. The eight others are Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Rab), Bangladesh Kalyan Party, Bangladesh Muslim League (BML), Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Islami Andolan Bangladesh and Bangladesh Jatiya Party (BJP).

They say this commission would not be able to hold credible and participatory national polls.

Talking to The Daily Star, LDP President Col (retired) Oli Ahmad, Bangladesh Kalyan Party Chairman Maj Gen (retired) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim and BML Secretary General Sheikh Zulfiqar Bulbul Chowdhury said they were in favour of a caretaker government overseeing the polls.

JSD Rab in a statement last week demanded an interim government.

JSD Rab, LDP, Kalyan Party and BML are component of BNP-led 20-party alliance.

Contacted, CPB General Secretary Ruhin Hossain Prince, and Razequzzaman Ratan, assistant secretary of Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, demanded an election-time neutral supervisory government.

Yunus Ahmed, secretary general of Islami Andolan Bangladesh, said they were for a neutral interim government.

Andaleeve Rahman Partha, chairman of Bangladesh Jatiya Party (BJP), said they did not want the election under a political government. "There should be discussions on the formation of an election-time government, be it under caretaker or interim or all-party system," he told this correspondent.

The caretaker government system was introduced in 1996 after mass protests led by the then main opposition Awami League. The demand, also backed by the Jatiya Party and Jamaat-e-Islam, came to the fore following massive rigging in the 1994 Magura by-election under the BNP rule.  

The BNP government at first strongly opposed the idea of a caretaker government but eventually amended the constitution to incorporate a provision for this.

Under the constitution, the caretaker government, comprised of 10 advisers and a chief adviser, had the jurisdiction to carry out only the routine works. Its main job was to assist the Election Commission in holding the polls.

The system was abolished by the AL government through an amendment in 2011.

There were three elections held under the caretaker system -- in 1996, 2001, and 2008.  The 2007 election was suspended after the country plunged into a severe political crisis with a caretaker government assuming power at the end of the BNP tenure.

After the fall of autocratic Ershad regime and the restoration of democracy, only one election, in 1991, was held under an "interim government".


During the talks yesterday, Bangladesh Congress proposed keeping the parliament and the cabinet ineffective during election time, and Nationalist Democratic Movement (NDM) urged the chief election commissioner to play the role of a "super prime minister" so that the administration can work neutrally and professionally.

Ruling AL's electoral partners -- Workers Party of Bangladesh and Samyabadi Dal and Islami Oikyajote -- proposed that the incumbent government act as the election-time government and perform day-to-day duties.

Khelafat Majlish sought a neutral caretaker government that would perform only the routine works.

Revolutionary Workers Party was for a caretaker or an interim government, Bangladesh Khelafat Andolon for a caretaker government, and Jamiat e Ulama e Islam Bangladesh, Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Janata League and the Gono Forum for a neutral government.

Besides, Bangladesh Jatiya Party (Mukit) and Bangladesh Muslim League sought an election-time government with representatives from the registered political parties.

The Gono Front called for an election-time government with representatives from the parties that have MPs in parliament since the independence, except for those who were elected through "debatable elections of 1986, 1988, February 1996, 2014 and 2018.

Bangladesh Sangskritik Muktijote proposed forming a national council comprised of all registered political parties to oversee the next election.

Twelve political parties kept mum about election-time government. They include three members of AL-led 14 party alliance -- Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Jasod), Ganotantri Party, and Bangladesh Tariqat Federation.

The rest eight are Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, Bangladesh Islami Front, Bangladesh Nationalist Front, Islamic Front Bangladesh, Bikapladhara Bangladesh, National People's Party, Zaker Party, and Bangladesh National Awami Party (Bangladesh NAP).

At least eight political parties demanded dissolving the JS before the election while at least 10 others demanded that the public administration, home, defence and some others ministries be brought under the EC.

Several parties demanded staggered elections; deployment of army; a level-playing field for all political parties; appointment of EC officials, instead of deputy commissioners, as returning officers; and installation of CCTV cameras at polling stations.

At the talks, ruling AL and its allies Samyabadi Dal and Bikalpadhara said they want EVM in the next general polls. Bangladesh Tariqat Federation was for using EVM in 150 constituencies.

Ten political parties, including Jatiya Party and Gono Forum, were against the use of EVM. Twelve political parties, including the 14-party alliance components JSD and Workers Party, are for conditional use of EVM.

Two political parties did not clear their stance on the issue.


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