The Caretaker Government of Bangladesh (Bengali: বাংলাদেশের তত্ত্বাবধায়ক সরকার) is a form of government system in which the country is ruled by a selected government for an interim period during the transition from one elected government to another, after the completion of tenure of the former. As the outgoing government hands over its power, the caretaker government comes into place.
Top members of the caretaker government do not represent any political party; nor are they allowed to contest the elections. The main objective of the caretaker government is to create an environment in which an election can be held in a free and fair manner without political influence by the outgoing government.
It is not empowered to take any policy decisions unless it is necessary. The head of the Caretaker government is called the Chief Adviser (in place of Prime Minister) and is selected by the President. The Chief Adviser selects the other advisers. The top positions of the administration are generally distributed among the advisers. The Chief Adviser and the other advisers are committed for their activities to the President.
In 1990 three party alliances discussed creating a better environment for elections. They jointly made a demand for it. After the forced resignation of General Ershad, the three alliances nominated Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed as the Chief Adviser. A caretaker government is headed by a Chief Adviser, who enjoys the same power as the regular prime minister of the country except in defense matters. The Advisers function as Ministers.
Since 1996, a Caretaker government has managed the elections and transitions of 1996, 2001 and 2008. Although the first caretaker government was intended to help the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, this system was adopted as part of the Constitution in 1996 by the Sixth Parliament. It was dominated by Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which yielded to opposition pressure.
In Bangladesh, a Caretaker Government (CTG) ruled for the period of 1990-91 with the understanding of the major political party alliances. Later, CTGs were formed within the constitutional framework in 1996, 2001 and 2006. The 13th amendment to the constitution was passed in the parliament formalizing this arrangement.
In addition, an extra-constitutional military-backed CTG was installed in 2007; it governed the country without legitimacy, but ultimately handed over power to the elected political party following the 29 December 2008 parliamentary election. They were under pressure internationally to yield to a democratically elected government.
According to the provision (before abolishment) of CTG in the Bangladesh Constitution, there were six options to appoint a Chief Advisor (CA). The last option of CA is the President. The CTG had to hold an election within 90 days and in 120 days could hand over power to the duly elected political party. The daily operations of government, routine duties, and holding parliamentary election are the mandated responsibilities of the CTG.
Caretaker Government is very popular in Bangladesh although it is a contradiction with constitution. Recently Pakistan and Greece have also adopted this model to hold elections and overcome political stalemate.
Military backed Caretaker Government and its role
The military-backed Caretaker Government (CTG) was formed outside the constitutional provisions. It performed all responsibilities of the regular elected government and continued for 2 years. Ruling autocratically, the Army chief used to attend the advisory council meetings and pressured the cabinet to made decisions he wanted. Adviser to President, Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury, was ousted as he was against the Army’s actions.
Later, President Iajuddin Ahmed had to run the presidency at gun point. Lt. Gen. Moeen upgraded the Army Chief of Staff’s rank to General; to maintain balance the other two military service chiefs were also promoted. Moeen extended the rule of the CTG for one year without lawful authority, in the absence of regular elected government. The senior adviser and minister of state Mukhles Chowdhury tried to solve the political problems. He brought the rival political parties to the planned parliamentary elections of 22 January 2007. But, by cancelling H M Ershad’s nomination, Moeen staged a military coup on 11 January 2007.
Mukhles Chowdhury was the de facto President and Prime Minister from 2006 to January 2007. Although strongly criticized by civil, military, political, media and the inner circle of President’s office and President’s family, a later investigation demonstrated that he had run the government honestly. The . Then PM’s political secretary was dead against his induction in the government publicly.
On 11 January 2007 when Mukhles Chowdhury became powerless, Brigadier Fazlul Bari decided to impose a curfew and press censorship with the consent of Major General Masududdin Chowdhury at Advisor’s Office. It was promoted as Chowdhury’s decision. This way a section of press worked against democracy and for autocracy openly. According to Moeen’s book, Mukhles Chowdhury was the most powerful man in the Presidency. He was offered to be the President and later to be the Chief adviser and finally through Brigadier Bari who went to his office requesting to run the country for two years and arrange trial of alleged corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, media-men etc. However, Chowdhury disagreed with such formula saying democracy must continue with following the system to check corruption.
Mukhles Chowdhury stopped the process of MPO of his father’s Technical Institute, approval of sanctioning a government building to that institution and ensured his cousin’s arrest for a car accident while was in power. As army group did not do anything to Chowdhury legally, they arranged attack by DGFI, PGR and Army in Dhaka on 26 February 2007 and 7 September 2007 in Dhaka. After one year and three and half months of military takeover, on 11 January 2007, Chowdhury left Bangladesh. He was publicly criticized in New York and in London, including 15 September in London, by Brigadier Amin.
The military backed extra-constitutional government of 2007-08 handed over power to the Awami League after the election, in which it won two-thirds of the seats. Earlier Sheikh Hasina openly said that the military government is product of their street movement. The Awami league promised to legalise the activities of thet illegal government. Despite the widespread supprt by voters in the election, the BD News portrays the Awami League government as an extension of the military-backed administration.
The national election of Bangladesh was held on 29 December 2008 under the Caretaker government formed with Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed as the Chief Adviser on 13 January 2007. This was the third Caretaker government formed after the tenure of the government of prime minister Khaleda Zia ended in October 2006. The Caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed functioned without legislative authority as it continued to function after its scheduled tenure of 120 days ended on 12 May 2007. All decisions taken after this date must be ratified by the parliament for the sake of legitimacy.
The Caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed was a military controlled and has made extensive use of the military to stymie the chaos that preceded the 11th of January, 2007 (popularly known as 1/11, like 9/11). From the very outset however, the government made it clear that they were there not only to arrange a free and fair election, but also to make sure that all aspects that are connected to it are reviewed properly. This meant major reforms in the election system, but also making sure that corrupt candidates could not take part in the election.
The task was however an enormous one, since Bangladesh is regarded as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Therefore, the government had exceeded its mandated term, which according to the constitution allows it to stay only for 90 days.
The caretaker government introduced Voter ID cards (with photograph) for the first time. The Bangladesh Army, including members of other military forces, were deployed throughout the nation prior to the elections, including the remotest areas, to assist with voter registration and issuance of the new IDs. They were equipped with laptops and small digital cameras in an effort that would result in the most orderly voters’ registration list in Bangladesh’s history.
Initial reactions of the public were welcoming. The arrests of corrupt prominent politicians led many to believe that a new political age was imminent. No new major parties came into the scene. In some cases, former political leaders have been released from prison and appear to be returning to former positions and displacing reformers.
Opponents of the CTG’s long tenure have chiefly been of the two major political parties. Members of the public in general understood the reasons and necessity for the government’ actions.
The television media has reported events throughout the term. There has been little questioning of the leaders who have been charged with an array of corruption charges, and who are now on the verge of returning to power. Almost all of the nation’s television channels are owned by members from one of the two major parties.
Chief Advisers since 1991
- Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed – Election of 1991
- Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman – Election of 1996
- Justice Latifur Rahman – Election of 2001
- Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed – Resigned on 11/January/2007
- Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed – Appointed 11/January/2007 – Election of 2008
Abolishment of CTG
In 2011 the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) unilaterally abolished Caretaker Government (CTG) through passage of the 15th amendment of the constitution with its majority in Parliament. They staged street protests during 1994-96 period. AL had been elected to power in 1996 and 2008 through the CTG process.
Opposition parties, including the BNP, have protested passage of the amendment. People are worried about next elections since the CTG was abolished. Sheikh Hasina has assured the public that parliament will be dissolved if the Court so decides.