Overtrump by Hasina
WHEN the parliament is dissolved either on ground of expiry of its tenure or for other reasons, the outgoing cabinet led by the prime minister faces legitimacy crisis. So, the premier does not want to continue in office. In such a situation, the head of state asks the prime minister and her cabinet members to continue functioning until the new prime minister takes office through the general election. During the period, the outgoing cabinet turns into an election-time interim government. It does not make any policy decision, and just carries out routine works.
This is the convention countries practicing the Westminster system of parliamentary government follow during the general election. The convention is simple and clear. There is no confusion and doubt about it.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seems to have opted for introducing this convention in Bangladesh. The statements she made in parliament on Wednesday say so. She said she would head the polls-time interim government as the president had assented to continuation of her cabinet until the next general election takes place. She said she formed the small cabinet on the advice of the president.
Her remarks are really surprising. How could she make them? No such situation prevails that she has to follow the above mentioned convention. Her government faces no legitimacy crisis. The parliament still exists and its tenure will expire on January 25. So, her government can continue as a regular government until January 24, 2014 without facing any legal question on its existence. And there is no legal bar on her government to continue functioning in full swing.
But suddenly she disclosed that the president has consented that her government could continue during the election. This is really ridiculous in the eyes of the law. And it is also interesting to notice that our all-powerful prime minister is suddenly depending on the president. The president's consent appears to be essential for her government to continue. The president, considered as a titular head, has little to do without advice of the prime minister. Then the crucial question is why did the prime minister make such a claim? This is her politics. She made the claim a day after opposition leader Khaleda Zia met President Abdul Hamid at Bangabhaban and requested him to take steps towards bringing about a consensus between the ruling and the opposition parties for holding a free, fair and participatory election under a non-party government.
The BNP-led alliance leaders led by Khaleda made a strong appeal to the president at the meeting: "We have come to you since you are the guardian of the state. It is our earnest request that you ask the government to shun the path of conflict and create an atmosphere conducive to holding dialogue. We are aware of your (president) constitutional limitations and powers …. But the people of the state have to play a role under certain circumstances. We think such a situation has arisen today in our national life. The people hope you will play such a role at this critical juncture."
Whatever the president said about his limitations, he cannot deny that the office of the president has something to do in such a situation to save the country from plunging into political turmoil. People also expect the president to break the political deadlock. Being the guardian of the state, he cannot remain silent and cite the limitation of his powers. So, by making the appeal to the president, Khaleda has demonstrated matured politics. She played a trump card to gain some points. If the president takes any steps to resolve the political crisis, it may favour the opposition alliance. If the president does not take any step, the opposition will also try to cash it in their favour.
But Hasina, also the chief of ruling Awami League, has suddenly played an overtrump card to upset her archrival Khaleda's game plan. By claiming that the president had consented that her government could continue to function during the election has effectively made it difficult for the president to take any step to resolve the political crisis. The president can in no way refute the prime minister's claim. So, how can the president speak in favour of any move which is against the 'election-time government' led by Hasina? It will not be possible for him.
By making that claim, Hasina might have tried to further consolidate her government's position to the people. She and her colleagues in the cabinet and party may launch a campaign in coming days to defend their position by citing the premier's claim. By doing so, Hasina has made the president partisan. Her claim may add fresh fuel to ongoing controversy over the process of the formation of the election-time government.
A constitutional debate has been raised over the ministers' resignations to pave the way for Hasina to form the polls-time government. All the ministers and state ministers completed handing in their resignations on November 11. The government's announcement that the PM will decide on the ministers' resignations has sparked the controversy, as the constitution leaves no room for the premier to do anything about a minister's resignation once it is submitted.
All the signs suggest that her election-time government will continue functioning with some of those ministers who have resigned. Their activities will also remain in question in the eyes of law. And, with the latest move, she has made the president a part of her election-time government. Will she finally be able to win the game?
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.