Proposed type of an interim government during election period in Bangladesh

Proposed type of an interim government during election period in Bangladesh

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva

The present political crisis in Bangladesh has primarily arisen because of deep mistrust between the two major parties in the country.

The crisis has aggravated because Awami League takes the firm position that the next parliamentary elections will be held strictly under the Constitution as amended for the fifteenth time on 30th June 2011, abolishing the provision of the non-party care-taker government.

The opposition mainstream party BNP, on the other hand, holds equally firmly its stance that they will not participate in any election by a government headed by the current Prime Minister because the election will not be fair, free and credible under it. However, I get the impression from speeches of top leaders of BNP that they will take part in the parliamentary elections if an interim government headed by a neutral person is in place and not headed by the current Prime Minister.

The people want a fair and free participatory general election. It is argued that parliamentary election is totally different from those of local elections because whichever party secures 151 seats at the parliamentary election will run the government with all its powers and privileges under the Constitution. The civil society and media have suggested that two parties should sit on a dialogue to come to a formula which is acceptable to all.

Democracy is not just about what the majority wants. It is also what the minority wants. Democracy must give full expression to Article 7 of the Constitution which stipulates that “ All powers in the Republic belong to people and their exercise on behalf of the people shall be effected only under, and by the authority of the Constitution.”

The Article 7 implies a general election to be participated by all parties represented by people and there should not be any situation in which the opposition party would boycott the parliamentary elections.

Foreign Friends:

Many friendly countries of Bangladesh are worried about the looming political crisis leading to instability and violence. They have also publicly articulated for a dialogue between the two major parties to arrive at an agreed formula of an interim government during the election period. Although their speeches are perceived as interference in domestic affairs, one may argue that they do it as friends as they are deeply interested in the welfare of people of Bangladesh.

China’s principled policy has always been not to interfere in domestic affairs. China is a good friend of Bangladesh and contributed a lot to the socio-economic development of Bangladesh. China must be so seriously concerned about the political situation in Bangladesh that on 21st August, it is reported that Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jun made comments on internal affairs of the country.

Ambassador Li reportedly urged the two major political parties to sit for dialogue to build confidence between them and resolve the current political standoff ahead of the next general election. He reportedly said the two parties should restrain themselves from any more aggressive speaking and actions to create a favourable setting for direct dialogue. These comments are a rarity from a Chinese Ambassador and it is assumed that he expressed the concern of his leaders.

Even the UN Secretary General reportedly intervened on a domestic matter and telephoned on 23rd August the Prime Minister and the Leader of the opposition and Chairperson of BNP Begum Khaleda Zia for a dialogue in resolving the political impasse and holding a participatory general election in the country.

The concern of the UN Secretary General arises from the fact that if there is no agreement between the ruling and opposition parties on the nature of interim government during the election period, unrest and violence may result in the country which may have impact on the stability of South Asia.

Bangladesh is the 8th largest populated country in the world and a member of the UN whose peacekeeping troops are deployed by the UN to maintain peace in other countries. But it is a paradox that peace and personal security is threatened in Bangladesh due to the political stalemate and the intervention by the UN Secretary General in a domestic matter demonstrates the failure of our leaders, even after 42 years of country’s existence, to put in place a system of government during the period of parliamentary elections.

No outside party can resolve the political impasse. It has to be resolved by our leaders and sooner it is resolved it is better for the country and country’s image abroad.

Suggested type of the interim government:

I have read an interesting article by Syed Borhan Kabir in the Bangladesh Pratidin of 23rd August that a non-party government is possible under the current constitution. I write this article describing a modified formulation from that of Mr. Kabir.

My proposition is that the present political crisis can be averted by taking recourse to certain actions by the President in his exercise of powers under the Constitution.

Under Article 48 (3), the President “in the exercise of his functions, save only that of appointing he Prime Minister pursuant to clause (3) of article 56 and the Chief Justice pursuant to clause (1) of article 95, the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister”. The above provision clearly means that the President can exercise his powers on his own in two cases, namely appointing the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of Bangladesh. In all other cases the President shall act under the advice of the Prime Minister.

One fact that is often ignored is that an unelected person can be a member of the government under the Constitution. To my best of knowledge, the current Prime Minister has appointed two unelected persons as full Ministers. Such appointment has been possible by the Prime Minister because Article 56 (2) of the Constitution provides that “not less than nine-tenths of their number shall be appointed from among members of parliament and not more than one-tenth of their number may be chosen from among persons qualified for election as members of parliament”*. The above cited provision means simply that an unelected person can be a member of the government subject to the condition that person is eligible to be a member of parliament as described in Article 66 of the Constitution.

The parliamentary elections are to be held any date between 26th October and 24th January 2014. The elections will be conducted by the Election Commission. This being the case, I would argue that the President may appoint an interim government of eleven members consisting of ten members of parliament from all parties and may appoint a Prime Minister a person who is neutral and unelected but who is eligible to be a member of parliament as per Constitution. The Prime Minister will be entrusted with the major ministries while the interim government will run routine duties and will not decide policy issues.

This is possible because under Article 56 (2) of the Constitution, any unelected person who is eligible for election as a member of parliament may be chosen. Only the parties have to agree to a person who will head the interim government as Prime Minister.I would argue that the above suggested formulation may need serious examination by our political leaders and constitutional experts so as to avoid the political crisis and its attendant consequences.

*Author’s interpretation in italics

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