Monday, May 16, 2011

SC Decision On Caretaker Govt. Fraught With Danger

The verdict of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court last Tuesday ( May 10 , 2011) by which it declared the system of installing a non- party caretaker government during the general election for the Jatiya Sangsad to be ultra vires Constitution and thus invalid indeed puts the Awami League into shame rather than the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. This is because it is the Awami League which had forced the BNP in 1996 to amend the Constitution making provisions in it for setting up non-party care- taker governments. The Awami League-led continued hartals and agitation had let loose a reign of violence in the first quarter of 1996 in the name of resisting the constitutionally valid, indeed obligatory, parliament election in February 1996 , followed by a month-long non-cooperation movement that brought the country to stand-still.    The allies of the Awami League in that campaign were the Jatiya Party of General Ershad, Jamaat-e- Islami of Prof. Golam Azam and Moulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, NDP of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, and another party led by Suranjit Sengupta. Some left parties also supported the combine. Their movement for a neutral care-taker government during Jatiya Sangsad elections began in 1974 after the parliamentary by-election at Mirpur and Magura. They charged that these elections were rigged by the ruling BNP and this proved that fair elections under the ruling party was not possible. BNP, on its part, argued that the government ought to be run by elected representatives. It offered various proposals for reducing the influence of the majority party on the administration during the run up to the general election but Awami League and it's the then allies rejected all. An effort by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth by sending a special emissary, Sir Ninian, former Governor General of Australia, also failed.    After the controversial results of the Jatiya Sangsad elections in February, 1996 , public support for a care-taker government grew. Those elections were marred on the one hand by violant attacks on polling centres by the Awami League-led opposition and inflated voter turn-out shown by BNP and others who took part in the election. BNP, which had won that election, finally amended the Constitution, on the very line demanded by Awami League, dissolved the parliament and resigned from the government. Awami League won the first elections, held in June, 1996 , under the care-taker government system but lost the next one in 2001. It began to criticise the present system of non-party care-taker government and demanded reforms. On the other hand the BNP wants the non-party care- taker government to continue charging that otherwise the fascistic Awami League will capture seats by means of bullying, terror tactics, mayhem and corruption. The Appellate Division, on the risk of being criticised for issuing contradictory orders, has allowed the non-party care-taker system to continue through two more general elections (theoretically next twelve years) but has asked the Jatiya Sangsad to keep retired judges away from heading it or making them its participant. This, however, gives the ruling Awami League to reform the system to its liking to a large extent. No wonder then that Awami League leaders have praised this decision but BNP has opposed it. The two parties have changed their positions.    The present situation is fraught with dangers because Bangladeshi politicians have shown themselves to be very poor negotiators. Their suspicion of each other and mutual hatred is all-consuming. Moreover, they have not been able to show themselves above corruption, especially when in power. This attitude permeates the present AL regime although it berates the BNP for corruption. The lure of extra- legal benefits from having one's fingers on the levers of power make resolution of problems by negotiation quite difficult.