The much-talked-about “all-party” polls-time cabinet has now been formed with the incumbent prime minister and president of the Awami League (AL) Sheikh Hasina as its head. Including the prime minister, the polls-time cabinet now has 29 members.
Of the 28 ministers, 20 are from the immediate past cabinet. Since their resignation letters were not accepted by the president, they continue as ministers in the polls-time cabinet and they were not required to be administered oaths of office.
On November 18, President Abdul Hamid administered an oath of office to eight new ministers. Of them, two are from AL, five from Jatiya Party-JP and one from Workers Party (WP), components of the grand alliance formed on the eve of the ninth parliamentary election. The PM has allocated portfolios to ministers of the election-time government, which was notified in the Bangladesh gazette on November 21.
In order to overcome the ongoing political impasse, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in an address to the nation on October 18, proposed to form an all-party government to oversee the 10th national election. BNP, which has long been demanding restoration of the constitutional provision for a non-party caretaker government, turned down the proposal and remained rigid to its demand.
BNP not only turned down the PM’s proposal to form an all-party election-time cabinet, its Chairperson Khaleda Zia on October 22 made an alternative proposal for forming an election-time, “non-party” government with 10 former advisers drawn from the caretaker governments of 1996 and 2001.
She proposed that from out of the 20 advisers to the two caretaker governments of 1996 and 2001, the ruling party would propose five names and the opposition five others. She also proposed that a “respected citizen” of the country be selected on the basis of a consensus between the ruling and the opposition parties, who would be the chief adviser of the polls-time government.
The ninth parliament has representation from eight political parties namely AL, BNP, Jatiya Party-JP, Jamaat-e- Islami, JSD, LDP, Workers’ Party and Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP.
BNP has criticised the formation of the election-time cabinet by passing its demand for a non-party government. According to the BNP, the formation of the all-party cabinet is nothing but a reconstitution of the immediate past cabinet that consisted of members from the AL-led grand alliance.
It has termed the formation of the polls-time cabinet as a farce and said that it will not work. BNP will not participate in the election under this cabinet.
Gonotantrik Bam Morcha, an alliance of eight left-leaning parties, has said that the AL-led government has been reconstituted in the name of formation of an all-party government. The new one is actually a reshuffled cabinet of the grand alliance government.
Political analysts and academics have given mixed reactions to the formation of the polls-time cabinet, and suggested immediate dialogue between the major political parties.
Some of them have said that the interim cabinet will break the current political impasse, whilst others have said that the polls-time government cannot be called an all-party government, since the main opposition BNP has not joined it. The formation of the polls-time cabinet is a strategy of the AL to make the grand alliance more organised.
English language daily The New Nation ran a commentary on November 19, which said: “Like most political observers and civil society leaders, we believe that the so-called all-party government will not make any difference. This is because the all-party government is all but a four-party coalition of the earlier AL-led 14-party alliance and this is what one may just term as the old wine in a new bottle.”
An online poll recently conducted by The Daily Star has shown that that 81% of the participants think that the newly formed polls-time government cannot be called an all-party government.
The Economist of London in its November 22 issue wrote: “It is merely a slimmed down version of the existing government of Sheikh Hasina, made up of the AL and assorted smaller allies, including the Jatiya Party of a former dictator, Mohammad Ershad.”
Civil society leaders, academics, media, the UN secretary-general, foreign dignitaries, diplomats, many others have stressed the need for dialogue between the government and the opposition, particularly between the PM and the leader of the opposition to work out an acceptable polls-time government for holding a peaceful, free, fair and credible election.
The move by the government and the Election Commission (EC) to hold the forthcoming national election without the participation of the main opposition BNP reminds us of the situation that was prevailing in the country towards the end of 2006 when the BNP-backed the Iajuddin Ahmed-led caretaker government and the MA Aziz-led EC were moving fast to hold the ninth national election on January 22, 2007, and the then main opposition AL declared that it would boycott the election.
There was complete breakdown of law and order. The result was the army-backed caretaker government of Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed. Many think the move to hold the 10th national election without the participation of the main opposition BNP may lead to a similar situation. This will, inter alia, hinder the progress of our hard-earned democracy.