BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday proposed forming a non-partisan polls-time government headed by a respected person to be chosen by consensus between the ruling and opposition parties.
She suggested that the Awami League and the BNP nominate five advisers each for the 10-member advisory council from among the former advisers of the 1996 and 2001 caretaker governments.
Khaleda, leader of the opposition in parliament, came up with the proposal as a counter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's recent offer to form an all-party election-time government.
In her proposal, Hasina didn't clarify who would head the all-party polls-time government, but ruling party leaders have maintained that Hasina would be at the helm of that administration.
Khaleda yesterday strongly opposed the proposal for a Hasina-led all-party government, and pitched for a non-partisan head of government and advisers for running the interim administration.
Speaking at a crowded press conference at Hotel Westin in the capital, the BNP chief called upon Hasina to accept her proposal and take the initiative to form a non-partisan government through a constitutional process.
She said the advisers of the interim government could be elected the way the president, the speaker and women lawmakers are, as the prime minister vehemently opposed the idea of allowing non-elected people to run the country.
They could be elected before the current parliament is dissolved, said the BNP chairperson who made the proposal on behalf of the BNP-led 18-party alliance.
She urged Hasina to take immediate steps to hold discussions between the ruling and opposition parties on her proposal.
"We do not want confrontation. We want compromise … I am making a fervent appeal to the honourable prime minister to accept my proposal for the sake of peace, stability and democracy," she said.
In defence of picking 10 advisers from among the ex-advisers of the two previous caretaker governments, she said two credible elections were held with the participation of all political parties under those advisers in 1996 and 2001.
The AL won the 1996 election while the BNP won the 2001 polls.
By making the proposal, Khaleda has recognised the credibility of the 1996 caretaker government led by Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman. Following the BNP's defeat in the 1996 election, Khaleda had questioned the role of that caretaker administration.
Similarly, Hasina and her party leaders slammed chief adviser Justice Latifur Rahman and several other advisers of the 2001 caretaker government after the AL's defeat in the 2001 election.
Khaleda yesterday said, "The advisers to those caretaker governments [in 1996 and 2001] were praised by all for their neutrality."
She, however, didn't speak for the Fakhruddin Ahmed-led caretaker government that ran the country for nearly two years after January 2007.
The AL-led alliance won a landslide victory over the BNP-led combine in the 2008 election.
Khaleda Zia's proposal for picking a respected person as the head of the interim government is almost similar to one of the options of choosing the chief adviser in the caretaker government system scrapped in 2011.
The provision had empowered the president to appoint the chief adviser from among qualified Bangladeshi citizens after consultations with the major political parties.
And if it didn't work, the president himself would assume the office of chief adviser.
Ignoring all alternatives, the then president Iajuddin Ahmed assumed the chief adviser's office on the advice of the BNP that had elected him president. His assumption of the office deepened the political crisis that led to the declaration of a state of emergency.
The scrapped provision had empowered the chief adviser to pick 10 advisers in the caretaker government that was introduced in 1996 in the wake of violent protests by the AL-led opposition.
Assuming the chief adviser's office in October 2006, Iajuddin appointed almost all his advisers on advice from both the BNP-led alliance and the AL-led combine. But four of the advisers resigned the following month.
In her proposal yesterday, Khaleda spoke about the formation of a polls-time government only for the upcoming 10th parliamentary election, but said nothing about the interim government system for future elections.
Her proposal for a non-partisan chief of the election-time government may remind people of a similar proposal made by Hasina about 18 years ago.
In 1995, the then prime minister Khaleda didn't accept a proposal from Hasina, then in opposition, for making a non-partisan person the head of the election-time government to break the political stalemate.
In her address to the nation yesterday, Khaleda stressed the need for a free, fair and competitive election to ensure continuity of democracy and a peaceful transfer of power.
"That is why we raised the demand for a neutral and non-party polls-time government," she said.
Commenting on Hasina's address to the nation, Khaleda said it was unfortunate that people's hopes and aspirations were not reflected in her speech, because it would not ensure a free and fair election participated by all political parties.
The prime minister didn't clarify who would head the proposed all-party election-time government, said Khaleda.
It raised concerns among people that the premier was inviting the opposition to participate in an uneven competition, keeping power and administration in her grip, and the lawmakers in place, said the BNP chief.
"It is not acceptable to people. She left no room for discussions on the popular demand for a polls-time non-party government and made a proposal convenient only for herself."
"The nation is frustrated at the prime minister's statement. I feel that the matter can be resolved through discussions. The sooner it takes place the better," she said.
The BNP chief said she had made a specific proposal in light of people's wishes and expectations, and hoped the prime minister would consider it.
Before Khaleda made the statement, her Press Secretary Maruf Kamal Khan said reporters would not be allowed to ask any questions as her speech would be self-explanatory.