12th parliament: Cabinet size may expand soon

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Discussions on the expansion of the cabinet led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have begun. Seven or eight new faces are likely to join the existing ministers and state ministers. The new appointments could be of the state ministers and deputy ministers than full ministers this time. There are discussions that three-four MPs from the reserved women seats may join the cabinet.

Sources from the governing Awami League and the government informed these to Prothom Alo.

However, no one could say the exact date by which the cabinet would be expanded. Wishing to remain unnamed, a senior cabinet member told Prothom Alo that the expansion of the cabinet may happen very soon.

The cabinet department has also made preliminary preparations in this regard.

The new cabinet took oath on 11 January after the 12th parliamentary elections on 7 January. Since then there has been discussions that the cabinet will be expanded after the election of MPs for reserved women seats.

The ruling Awami League nominated 48 candidates for the reserved women seats. The Jatiya Party, the opposition in parliament, gave nominations to the two remaining seats.

All 50 won unopposed as there were no competitors. The circular was also issued on Tuesday. The MPs for reserved seats can join the parliament after taking oath.

Apart from the prime minister, there are 25 full ministers and 11 state ministers in the current cabinet. There is no deputy minister in the 37-member cabinet.

In the previous cabinet, there were 25-26 full ministers like this time but there were around 20 state ministers and three deputy ministers. In total, the previous cabinet had 49 members.

Ministries that are in discussion

The government and Awami League sources said that the number of members of the current cabinet is likely to be the same or close to the previous cabinet. There is no minister and state minister in the two ministries yet. Among these, the inclusion of two women members in the labour and employment and cultural affairs ministries are under discussion.

Mannujan Sufian was the Minister of State for Labour and Employment in the 11th cabinet. She did not get the party nomination in this parliamentary election. Later, she was made an MP from a reserved seat.

There is a discussion that a reserved seat MP of the 10th parliament, who was a state minister in the 2014 Awami League government, may be given the charge of the cultural affairs ministry.

That MP was dropped in the 11th parliament, but this time again she was elected as an MP from a women’s reserved seat.

A minister or just a state minister is serving in several ministries in the current cabinet although these ministries had multiple ministers, state ministers or deputy ministers in the past.

Related sources say that an MP elected from the reserved women’s seat for the second consecutive term, could be made a state minister in the finance ministry. The example of being elected as an MP for a reserved women’s seat is rare.

Planning ministry also could be given a state minister.

Earlier, the Awami League government appointed a state minister or deputy minister alongside a full minister in the local government ministry. But as of now, Tazul Islam has been serving alone as the Minister of Local Government.

A state minister could be given in this ministry. A source said that there has been a fewer number of ministers and state ministers from North Bengal. An MP from North Bengal could get the post of state minister of the local government ministry.

There is a possibility of appointing a state minister or deputy minister in the health ministry. There is a discussion about two MPs from Jashore and Kishoreganj for this ministry. Both have family traditions. A state minister or deputy minister may also be assigned responsibility in the education ministry.

In addition to the state minister, a full minister has always been appointed in the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology. But state minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak has been carrying out the responsibilities of the ministry alone until now.

The issue of appointing a full minister in this ministry or another state minister by dividing the departments is also under discussion. An MP from Chattogram is in the race for the ministry.

Previous cabinet members hoping for posts

Partners of the Awami League-led 14-party coalition were inducted in the cabinet in 2009 and 2014. Since then, none of them were given any ministry of the government.

This time too some are expecting to get a berth in the cabinet. However, responsible sources of the ruling party say that the incumbent government is completely of Awami League. There is no possibility of sharing any ministry with the alliances or partners.

AL sources said that three or four leaders of the party’s presidium members secretaries did not get any place in the cabinet this time. But they have not given up hope yet.

Divisions and districts also in consideration

Current cabinet members are predominantly from Dhaka, Sylhet and Chattogram divisions while representation from Rajshahi, Rangpur, Khulna, Barishal and Mymensingh divisions is fewer. There is discussion that the districts that did not have cabinet members for a long time and the divisions that have fewer representation could be taken into consideration.

Tipu Munshi, Nurul Islam Sujan and Nuruzzaman Ahmed from Rangpur division were full ministers in the previous cabinet. Besides, state ministers were Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury and Zakir Hossain.

This time, Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali is the full minister and Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury has been included in the cabinet from this division. Rajshahi division had one full minister and two state ministers in the previous cabinet but this time there is a minister and a state minister.

AL sources say there could be another minister or state minister from Rajshahi division. Rangpur division could also get a state minister.

Khulna division has three ministers of state in the 11th parliament. It has got two full ministers this time. Another state minister could be taken from the division. Barishal division has got two state ministers instead of one full minister and one state minister in the previous government.

Speaking about the cabinet’s expansion, Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader recently told newspersons that there will be full ministers in the labour and employment, and the cultural affairs ministry at some point.

He also said that cabinet members could be appointed from the MPs from reserved women’s seats.

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza