political condition seems to be heading for a definite deadlock
over the issue of reform of the caretaker government (CG)
system. The issue was very much in the air, making rounds
for quite some time now. Finally, at a roundtable on March
14, the AL and their allies formally spelt out their demand
of reforming the caretaker government system. PM Khaleda Zia
while speaking on a thanksgiving motion to the president's
speech scornfully rejected the demand, terming it "irrational".
She also jeered at the AL-sponsored roundtable, saying, "nothing
worthwhile will come of roundtables or street agitation on
the issue". The PM's rejection was quickly followed by
the AL's threat that they would not take part in or allow
any elections under the existing CG system.
it has specific grounds for demanding reform in the existing
system. It points fingers at the new law the alliance government
enacted last year that raises the retirement age of the Supreme
Court judges to 67 from the erstwhile 65. According to the
existing system, the immediate past chief justice (CJ) is
to become the chief adviser of the interim caretaker government.
The AL believes the new law of raising the age of judges was
manufactured by BNP so that they could have 'their man' as
the head of the caretaker government.
minister Barrister Moudud Ahmed, who has mastered the art
of covering shrewd thinking with his mellifluous voice, claimed
to have framed this law for the greater cause of justice.
He claimed the shortage of senior and talented judges has
prompted him to defer the retirement age by two years. And
the extended service from the most experienced judges, he
asked us to believe, would only serve the people better in
terms of getting justice in the courts.
sweet, but isn't he the same law minister, who has been playing
an instrumental role in delaying the separation of judiciary
from the executive, which was one of BNP's topmost election
pledges? So, when he is actively delaying the process that
would bring about basic changes in our justice system and
would serve the greatest to the cause of justice, why would
people believe that he has made the law to raise the age of
retirement for the cause of justice?
if BNP had no ill intentions behind raising the service period
of the justices, as Moudud would have us believe, why should
it have any objections to agreeing to AL's demands? AL's main
objection to the existing CG system is the provision that
allows only the immediate past CJ to become the head of the
CG. As the head of the CG, AL and its allies want someone
who is acceptable to everyone, and that accepted-by-all person
can be from any background, including that of the judiciary.
What problems BNP might possibly have to accept this proposal
unless, of course, it has any plans to manipulate the election
results in their favour, for which they certainly need their
man at the helm of affairs?
the provision of the immediate past chief justice becoming
the chief advisor of the CG seems to also have a side effect,
and a negative one for that matter. Eminent lawyer Barrister
Amirul Islam hinted that signs of unholy competition can already
be seen among some judges who are in the short list of the
probable chief justices. The aspirant judges are desperate
to prove their loyalty to the present government, as that
is what has become the required quality. Given the recent
trend of politicisation of the judiciary these years, Islam's
hints seem quite plausible, which is worrying to say the least.
reform proposals made at the roundtable include: the caretaker
government shouldn't take any policy decision; the president
won't have any ministry in his charge (under the existing
system the defence ministry is controlled by the president);
the charge of all the law-enforcing agencies should be at
the hands of the EC, etc. No doubt, these proposals by the
opposition parties are based on their practical experience
of the last three elections and therefore merit close scrutiny.
Outright refusal by the government won't take us anywhere.
significant demand that came out of the roundtable was establishment
of an independent Election Commission. The fact that elections
from local to national levels are won more often by black
money, muscle power and manipulation of religious feelings
than popular support shows how impotent and worthless the
EC is. Renowned lawyer and framer of our constitution, Dr.
Kamal Hossain suggested that the EC would have to be given
financial autonomy and the power to investigate into election-related
irregularities besides making it a truly independent institution.
Others opined that the EC should have its own personnel to
conduct elections freely and fairly.
the EC's dependence on the government for manpower and budgetary
allocation makes it hard for the EC to wield even whatever
limited authority it enjoys. The by-election of Dhaka 10 was
a good illustration of the helplessness of our EC. The EC
could not execute even the court order of employing army personnel
at every centre for the government's deliberate and unconstitutional
interference. So, if the government refuses to accept strengthening
the EC, wouldn't it mean that it wants to take advantage of
the EC's weakness once again as it did in the Dhaka 10 by
the government has firmly refused the reform demand. Law minister
Moudud Ahmed has opined that "CG is a settled issue and
one of the basics of the Constitution". But, things in
the Constitution can also be changed. Don't we have 13 amendments
in our constitution? Besides, no man-made system is infallible.
As a system undergoes the ever-changing political, social
and economic conditions it has to be continuously modified
and re-modified to meet new challenges.
government system is also not faultless. The fact that the
losing parties in the last three general elections conducted
by the caretaker governments have alleged vote-rigging amply
testifies to this. Finally, the amendments the opposition
has so far proposed in no way put BNP in disadvantageous position,
do they? Rather, it seems they would make the CG system work
better and more efficiently.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005