By Tirthankar Mitra
A provision for a caretaker government during elections in Pakistan was nowhere in the scheme of things when it’s Constitution was framed. It was General Ziaul Huq led martial law government which ushered in this system in 1985 through Revival of Constitutional Order into the nation’s Constitution.
It was typical of a dictatorial regime which in an over-simplistic and non-political manner sought to solve political problems. Small wonder, it was in 1988 when Zia prematurely dissolved the National Assembly and dismissed elected governments that the first caretaker government was formed
It may be recalled that charges of rigging tainted the 1977 general elections. Yet no caretaker government was foisted on Pakistan at that point of time.
The caretaker government formed at Zia’s behest struck out like a sore thumb in a set up which sought to give itself a democratic camouflage. It had no caretaker prime minister.
Caretaker governments in Pakistan had seven prime ministers since then. But their terms of office did not contribute to free and fair elections.
Apart from being burdened by allegations of partisan functioning, the caretaker government made its place under the scanner in April this year after the 90-day mandate of such governments exceeded in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunwa (KP). Both continue to function and take long-term policy decisions contrary to some of the provisions of Election Act 2017.
One of the caretaker ministers of KP government had addressed a public rally of a political party. Partisan nature of the caretaker government comes to the fore though Election Commission has ordered his dismissal.
Pakistan continues to run the risk of being run by representatives who have not walked into the corridors of power with a people’s mandate. The action and decision of these persons will vary widely from that of elected individuals and so will be their impact on the people’s welfare and the nation’s development index
There are two options before Pakistan after its National Assembly is elected. It can reform the system ensuring the caretaker system is strictly neutral.
But then even the best intentioned plans for the continuance of democracy have been known to go astray. Ambition of generals and ingenuity of some of the political leaders eager to do the bidding of the men in uniform in exchange of a seat at a high table, have seen to it.
Political parties have made their way into caretaker governments. The trend indicates no sign of a slump.
Winding up of the flawed caretaker system of governance seems to be the best possible option. Only then can Pakistan take a place of honour among democratic countries.
What Pakistan has failed to do so far have been done by Bangladesh. It has declared the caretaker government system to be unconstitutional.
An elected government runs India during elections with drastically reduced powers. It is high time Pakistan’s political establishment takes a call.(IPA Service)