Polls-time govt no different in functions

Mustafizur Rahman

The functions of the government have not changed after October 27 when the 90-day countdown to the next general elections began, since there are no legal or constitutional guidelines as to how the polls-time administration should run, experts say.
As per law, the bureaucracy will have to carry out the decisions of the cabinet led by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, during the transition.
‘There is no difference between the election-time government [October 27 to January 24, 2014] and the previous one… The constitution says nothing about the functions of the election-time government in particular,’ cabinet secretary Mohammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said.
Asked how the administration would function during the transition period of 90 days, the top civil bureaucrat told New Age that the bureaucracy’s responsibility was to carry out the decisions of the cabinet as usual in keeping with the law.
It depends on the ‘political decision’ of the government whether the cabinet should take any policy decisions during the time as legally or constitutionally the government at the moment is not different from what it was before October 27, he added.
Jurist Rafique-Ul Huq said that the present government should discharge only routine work after the announcement of the schedule of the 10th parliamentary polls.
He, however, noted that since the provision for a non-party caretaker government system was dropped from the constitution through an amendment, the government should follow the practice in other democracies like India.
The senior lawyer of the Supreme Court said that the national elections were conducted under the elected government in India, but it did not take policy decisions during the election time.
‘The same practice we had as long as the caretaker government was in place. But now we do not have any law or there is nothing in the constitution about the functions of the polls-time government,’ he observed.
The non-party caretaker government was omitted by the Constitution (15th Amendment) Act, 2011.
In a meeting with senior civil servants on September 2, the prime minister had said that the current parliament would serve out its full tenure, but it would not hold any session in three months before the expiry of five-year term.
She also made it clear to the secretaries that her cabinet would not take any policy decisions from October 27 this year to January 24, 2014. In an apparent shift from her stand, the prime minister has now decided that her administration would continue to function as usual till the election schedule is announced.
On October 28, the cabinet endorsed as many as five drafts of the laws and a draft document at its 223rd meeting.
Article 123 (3) of the constitution says, ‘A general election of the members of Parliament shall be held – (a) in the case of a dissolution by reason of the expiration of its term, within the period of ninety days preceding such dissolution; and (b) in the case of a dissolution otherwise than by reason of such expiration, within ninety days after such dissolution.
Chief election commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad said on Wednesday that the government could not take any ‘policy decisions’ during the election time. It would carry out only ‘routine work’ the way the caretaker government used to do, he said.
Sheikh Hasina on several occasions reaffirmed her stand that the next polls would be held under the elected government although the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party was pressing for restoration of the non-party caretaker government system through a constitutional amendment.
Meanwhile, Hasina, also president of Awami League, offered formation of an all-party government – a proposal which has been rejected by the
BNP.
‘The provision for all-party government has neither been in any law or in practice in our country…What is important is who would be the prime minister as the constitution has vested all powers in him/her,’ former professor of public administration at Chittagong University, Tofail Ahmed said.
He also said that the role of the election-time government had not been defined by any law or rule nor had the country developed any convention in this regard.
‘Many countries like Australia follow their convention in this regard and they do not take policy decisions during the polls time,’ Tofail, also a local government expert, said.

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