Election-time government: Only sincerity is missing

Election conflicts are nothing new in this country. Much of the conflict is over the nature of the election-time government. Over the past 50 years, this has been a bone of contention more or less during each and every government.

The first debate regarding an election-time government arose within just a year or so after the country's independence. In the fourth schedule of the 1972 constitution, there was provision to hold elections under the government of the time. During discussions on this issue in the national assembly, Suranjit Sengupta recommended that a caretaker government be set up until a government was formed through fresh elections.

He proposed that this government be formed with representation from all political parties that had taken part in the liberation war. Rejecting his proposal, the law minister of that time, Dr Kamal Hossain, said that during the election, the Awami League government would act as the 'caretaker government'. The Awami League leaders in the national assembly made a commitment for a free and fair election.

But even after that, the first national parliamentary election held in 1973 in this country was not above debate. Many elections were held in the country after that, and each and every one faced varying degrees of controversy. That is why till date there has been no end to the debate over what the election-time government should be like.

After widespread allegations that the 2014 and 2018 elections under the Awami League government were rigged, this controversy grew. BNP, Ganatantra Mancha, the alliance of the left-leaning alliance and other parties are calling for a boycott of the election under the Awami League government. On the other hand, Awami League and its allies are inflexible in their stance for elections under the party government.

Meanwhile, Awami League's general secretary recently said that if BNP takes part in the election, then there can be consideration to include BNP in the election-time government. The BNP secretary general rejected this as a 'conspiracy' to dupe the people. He says the question doesn't even arise of believing or trusting the Awami League general secretary's words.

Much can be said for and against the stand of the BNP secretary general. But it cannot be denied that there is need for discussion on election-time government. There is scope for this too. Alongside their thoughts for a boycott of the election or running a one-sided election, both the parties need to take all these matters into consideration.


As a result of an understanding reached among the major political parties of the country, provision was made for an election-time non-partisan (interim and caretaker) government. As a result, four relatively good elections were held between 1991 and 2008. The incumbent governments were defeated in each of these elections. This did work as a deterrent for the rulers to stay away from misdeeds, to an extent. In discussions of the constitution reforms committee in 2011 during the rule of the Awami League government, both Awami League and BNP spoke in favour of continuing with the caretaker government provision.

Now whenever there is talk regarding a return to this system, reference is made to the constitution and the ruling of former chief justice Khairul Huq. But the constitution is a changeable document. There is even precedence in this country of amending the constitution and giving legitimacy to actions already carried out.

Certain confusions in the ruling of Justice Khairul Huq had been deliberately used in a motivated manner. This has been pointed out and explained in writings by Badiul Alam Majumdar, the late Mizanur Rahman Khan and myself. In light of the extremely controversial elections of 2014 and 2018, consideration of reestablishing a caretaker government should not be brushed aside. At the same time, thoughts may also be given to whether there is any alternative to this.

There was a glimmer of such a possibility on the part of Awami League prior to the 2014 election. They said that an election-time government could be restructured, giving BNP certain important ministries including that of home affairs. BNP rejected the offer and so it could not be assessed just how sincere they were in this proposal. But the question is, could such an arrangement actually ensure the election-time government's neutrality?

We are all aware that in the prevailing system of government, all power lies in the hands of the prime minister. She is also the head of her political party and Leader of the House. As long as she remains installed in the office of prime minister, it is difficult to believe that any officers of the police or the administration would obey the orders of ministers from any other party.

The problem could be assuaged somewhat by placing a different member of parliament from Awami League or Jatiya Party (such as the Speaker or Leader of the Opposition), in the office of prime minister. Actually it is possible according to the present constitution to even appoint certain BNP leaders as important ministers under the prime minister and technocrat quota. This would generate trust among those believe in a fair election under an election-time government.

Under such circumstances, there really is no alternative but to restore faith in the election-time government. We must keep in mind, if mistrust and frustration over the election continues to prevail in the country, then national unity, solidarity and strength will crumble further


After the 2018 election (and various elections that followed), there was no reason for anyone to believe that fair elections could be held under a party government. We have seen no indications whatsoever that the election commission will be able to carry out a fair election under the present government. Instances in this context include failure during the Cumilla by-election to implement the order for the Awami League MP to leave the constituency, the experience of Hero Alam in Bogura, and the irregularities in the city corporation elections.

Over the past few years we have seen many instances that have generated mistrust in the election culture. The candidature of persons not in the government's favour, has been cancelled in one way or the other. Efforts have been made to keep Jatiya Party subservient by questionable means. Innumerable cases have been filed against BNP and other opposition parties to make it difficult or impossible for them to join the election. Calculated appointments and postings are made in the police force and the administration. There is a noticeable fall in the voter turnout at various national elections.

Under such circumstances, there really is no alternative but to restore faith in the election-time government. We must keep in mind, if mistrust and frustration over the election continues to prevail in the country, then national unity, solidarity and strength will crumble further. And evil forces at home and abroad will take full advantage of the situation. We have seem many instances of this in the form of non-political and questionable persons in parliament, an unaccountable economy of looters and various contracts with foreign elements that go against the interest of the country.

These problems prevailed before too, that these may remain even if there is a fair election. But a controversial election deepens the crisis of legitimacy. And so this is how those in power become dependent on various forces at home and abroad, in order to remain in power. This cannot be denied.

In the interests of the country, we all must make concerted efforts for a fair election. There are ways to stage such an election. All that is needed is the right intention.

* Asif Nazrul is a professor of the law department at Dhaka University.

* This column appeared in the print an online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir