The debate on the Caretaker Government (CG) is moving in a cycle of convenience, away from the basic need to hold the parliamentary elections in a free, fair and credible way.
The party in opposition without exception tends to take the cover of the system to avoid undue administrative intrusion of the party in power in holding national election free from rigging.
This is what BNP and other opposition parties today want while they are pressing for continuing the system.
And this is what exactly Awami League (AL), together with Jamaat-e-Islami, had also done prior to 1996 election when it launched a bloody, vigorous nationwide movement demanding that election be held under CG system to ensure that it is free from intervention of the ruling party which was BNP that time.
The BNP had opposed the CG concept that time from the position of power. Today AL is opposing it perhaps for the same reason.
But the CG system is very much part of the Constitution and has been developed as a very strong political institution to ensure stability during election, besides a free, fair and impartial election.
Against this backdrop, the Awami League government’s present move to scrap the CG system has not only caught the nation by surprise but also injected a sense of distrust.
AL’s move for CG in 1996
Now the very basic question is: why Awami League in the first place was hell-bent on institutionalizing the CG system in 1996 and is now in high gear to abolish the system. Why BNP did not want it that time and wants it now. What is the mystery behind it?
Is it alone the dream of a free, fair credible election that it can offer or there is a hidden story that explains the need of the CG to some parties at some point in one hand and the apathy why they oppose it at a different time depending on whether they are in power or outside?
There is no doubt Awami League was able to sell the idea of the
CG prior to 1996 election, though it was the brainchild of Prof Gulam Azam of Jamaat-e-Islami, for holding free and fair election that time.
The perception was that a party in power can easily manipulate election process to secure results in its favour. So BNP was asked to leave the electioneering process to a neutral body that time from which it derived the name caretaker government. Awami League won the election following it and formed government.
By the same token BNP now reasonably suspects that Awami League wants to deprive it of the privilege of a free and fair election by scrapping the CG and restoring the electioneering process to the political government in power–which means putting it in its own hand.
It viewed the recent Supreme Court judgment scrapping the CG system from this point of view. BNP is seeing the judgment as a political product which the just retired Chief Justice has given before he left office to put the ball in the hand of the Awami League government.
The judgment said the CG is illegal from the constitutional point of view, but the country may hold the next two general elections under it as a matter of political convenience.
Controlling next polls
Sheikh Hasina however, has picked up the issue here saying since it is illegal, why then two more elections should to be held under it and accordingly she is trying to take control of the next election under the cover of an Election Commission loyal to her government. This is why BNP opposes it.
Awami League is however claiming it has held Pourashava and UP election free from interventions, it proved parliamentary elections can also be fair under Sheikh Hasina’s government.
After all the country can not run on ultra-constitutional process as far as election is concerned, Hasina said. But BNP and other opposition parties have vowed to stop the move to keep the CG functioning.
The opposition has therefore held a day-long hartal Sunday last to bring pressure on the government to continue the system. It may be only beginning, BNP senior leaders said while the government is.
asking BNP to go to Parliament to speak out its views on the subject. BNP leaders say since the Prime Minister has made up her mind, so there is no point of taking the issue in the House, except giving it legitimacy by taking part in debate.
News reports said Awami League (AL) had called many hartals during 1996 to realize the CG. The AL even called hartal on the day the World Bank team was on a visit to Bangladesh to finalize a loan agreement on the Jamuna bridge project.
The question is: how many more hartals the nation may witness and mess in socio-economic life before the issue may be settled. Only a consensus may bring end to the problem. Otherwise the nation may become severely affected by disorder and violent show downs that is not expected.
Where and when the issue may come to an end nobody can say but the nation can only hope that good sense would prevail to defeat arrogance and political expediency.