Bangladesh: Is Sheikh Hasina's Proposal to End the Political Crisis too Little?

21 Oct, 2013    ·   4148

Harun ur Rashid analyses the Bangladeshi PM's October address

On 18 October 2013, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina oproposed forming an all-party election-time government to oversee the next general election."We want to hold the next parliamentary elections taking all parties with us. It's my proposal to the opposition party that we can form an 'all-party government' comprising all parties for the election period," she said in her 21-minute televised address to the nation.

Sheikh Hasina said that the aim of the government is to hold a free, neutral and peaceful election. "That's why I'm proposing the opposition party that you could send names from opposition MPs for including them in the interim cabinet for forming the all-party government so that no one could have any suspicion about the election," she said.In the same context, Hasina said that there could be an election to remove public mistrust and encourage people to cast their votes to elect a government according to their desire."I request the opposition leader to respond to my plea and she'll accept my request and value our goodwill with a positive gesture," she said.

While a constructive speech, certain facts remain uncertain. Many analysts argue that the Prime Minister has to come up with a more pragmatic proposal in order to end the political crisis. The  18 October speech has been conciliatory and constructive, especially since it comes from the Prime Minister who was earlier perceived as uncompromising and unnecessarily stubborn in responding to the demands of the major opposition party, BNP, which wants the restoration of a non-party government during election time.The speech is considered positive because it
• acknowledges the political crisis
• indicates a blue print to hold talks with the BNP on the type of interim government for the election period
• declares the period of holding parliamentary elections between 25-24 January, and that the Prime Minister, after discussion with all parties, would write to the President in 'due time' to hold elections. This announcement has removed many wild rumours about the elections being held in April, as permissible under the constitutional provision.

Following Hasina's speech, the PM's Public Administration Adviser HT Imam reportedly said at a TV talk show that 35 days were necessary for the Election Commission to hold the elections, while the Constitution requires holding elections within 90 days from 25 October. Once the election schedule is announced by the Election Commission, the interim government would come into effect.

The Prime Minister has extended an olive branch to the BNP, and the BNP may respond by ageering to talks for resolving the political crisis. The political crisis has dampened foreign and domestic investment and has had an adverse impact on the economy.There are also public concerns about the law and order situation in the country after 25 October.

Observers say that Prime Minister’s speech fell short of clarifying a few issues. For instance, who will head the interim government? How big will be the interim government be? What will be functions of the government? Who will occupy the positions of core ministries, such as Defence, Home, Public Administration, Finance and Local Government? Will the current parliament be dissolved? When? Many analysts say that these issues may be the subject of talks between the AL and BNP.

As of today, the BNP has not yet formally responded to the PM's proposal. However, it seems from statements reportedly made by some BNP policy-makers that BNP will not accept Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as the head of the interim government, which poses a big political problem. They would instead prefer a neutral person to head the interim government for the sake of free and fair elections. BNP claims that this demanded is also seconded by 90 per cent of the people in the country.

The Constitution allows non-elected persons to become ministers under the 'technocrat quota' (56.2 of the Constitution), and two full cabinet ministers occupy the current cabinet. Moreover, the current Speaker of Parliament is an unelected person who became a nominated MP from a reserved women's seat in the Awami League party.  Although technically there is no difference between an elected MP and a MP from reserved women seats under the Constitution,  in reality, MPs from reserved seats are unelected persons and that is why many nominated women MPs are eager to be elected from general constituencies at the coming parliamentary elections.

Given the above context, the Prime Minister could advise the President to nominate a neutral person agreed on by the major parties on the 'technocrat quota'  of the constitution to head the interim government. An alternative is that a neutral person could be elected through a by-election from a constituency vacated by an AL member to head the interim government.