Why Caretakers?

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After much deliberations and prudence, Pakistan has started finalizing its caretaker cabinets of both center and four provinces. It is such a rare and unparallel mechanism which exists in Pakistan only.

According to this model, the non-elected members of government are seated after the dissolution of national and provincial assemblies when the fresh elections come around the corner. The chief explanation and rationale for this strategy highlights the necessity of caretaker setup is only to guarantee the impartiality and neutrality of the administrative setup conducting elections.

Many summers ago in 1996, Bangladesh also attempted the aforementioned mechanism. They appointed unelected caretaker cabinets along with head of government who was a retired chief justice of Bangladesh’s Supreme Court. Their experiment stood disastrous and the state entirely abandoned the idea in 2011.

The original essence of the ongoing 1973 constitution of Pakistan prohibits the induction of non-elected cabinets for ensuring transparency in the elections. However, the idea of appointing caretaker government emerged popularly after the Z.A Bhutto’s government who continued till 1977 and conducted general elections which ended up with allegations of large-scale rigging to achieve success in elections.

Unfortunately, this mechanism of caretaker governments has revealed that they entirely failed to hold the transparent elections and hardly qualified as neutral or non-partisan actor in the elections.

In the era of PPP-led government, they introduced substantial 18th and 20th constitutional amendments and introduced reforms in caretaker system. These reforms provided valid justification of the process. According to these provisions, the caretaker Prime Minister and Chief Ministers must be appointed by following the three-step procedure.

First, the President must not use his discretion to appoint caretaker Prime Minister. Instead, it should be selected by the mutual consensus of ongoing Prime Minister and the opposition leader. In the same manner the same unanimity and consent is required for the appointment of provincial caretaker Chief Ministers.

Secondly, if consensus is not reached, than the both officials are asked to nominate their respective candidates for the post of caretaker Prime Minister. These names are further sent to parliamentary committee; consisting equal members from the both sides of ruling and opposition parties. The committee is then asked to appoint the caretaker Prime Minister from the given manes in the time span of three days.

Thirdly, if the committee also fails to produce desirable results, at the last resort, four names are sent to Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for its final verdict for caretaker Prime Minister. Moreover, similar procedure is adopted for appointing provincial caretakers with only significant change that parliamentary committee will comprise six members as compared to 8 members in selection caretaker Prime Minister.

To see the clear materialization of the above mentioned process, one should carefully evaluate the 2013 general elections in which parliament failed to build a consensus and finally ECP jumped into the situation and appointed the caretaker Prime Minister. A benefit could be drawn from this mechanism which provides little time for political hackers to turn the tide in their favor. As a result, the flow of natural and rational decisions are not objected and barricaded.

Though, the 18th and 20th amendments are providing directions for the working of interim government, yet, there are certain vagueness functions and powers of caretaker setup along with procedural hiccups. As a result, the Supreme Court has to control the aggravating situation, for instance, the verdict before 2013 elections. Afterward the parliament passed the 2017 Act, which provided the much needed guidance on the subject. The section 230 of the very act provides clear framework and limitations of the caretaker system under which they have to operate.

Basically the caretaker system has to attend the day to day administration to run government affairs and assisting ECP to hold transparent elections. But, ECP specify a condition on them to remain in their drawn circle and must not indulge themselves in major policy makings. Moreover, they are also prevented to enter in international agreements dealing major contracts and appointing or promoting public officials except for short-term appointment only.

Most importantly, these interim officials are not allowed to transfer public officials unless it is directed and permitted by the ECP. They have to strongly comply with the dos and don’ts demarcated for them. Since the every decision and development on the part of caretakers are overlooked by the ECP, unveils the reality that formers are the only puppets and their commission is termed as de-facto super-government.

As the powers sand functions of the caretakers are defined, which shows that they are not entitled to do anything freely and independently. Here, the rational question arises that do we really need unelected caretakers for conducting elections? Why the elected government is not allowed to hold the elections, as the entire world follow the suit? If such a insurgency is seen, the ECP must be empower to watch whether the caretakers are working on the prescribed limits or not.

Pursuing this further, these additional powers of oversight and accountability are provided to Election Commission in the most countries during polls. The logic behind its empowerment is that the normal and official mechanism of the government to ensure transparency and accountability is dissolved before general elections.

This is how the Indian government operated during elections under the strict code of conduct by the Election commission of India. Bangladesh, as discussed earlier also took u-turn. The countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada have devised their caretaker governments which is another name for code of conduct.

Thus, after conducting the 2018 elections under the banner of ECP, the new elected national assembly along with senate must take into account whether it really needs to appoint a caretaker government for few months to hold elections? If not, a mechanism must be drawn to provide an opportunity to ongoing government to take this matter with sincere hands.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Quetta. He can be reached at: Asadhussainma@yahoo.com