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Caretakers questioned

The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, has raised a very pertinent issue when he asked what was the utility of the caretaker governments. He asked this while presiding over a bench hearing a petition asking for simultaneous elections to the National Assembly and all four provincial assemblies. One of the counsel, former Senate Chirman Farooq H. Naek, noted that the Constitution laid down that power was to be exercised through the chosen representatives of the people, which meant that governments were supposed to be elected, not selected, as caretaker governments were. He also noted that the Election Commission of Pakistan was tasked with conducting elections, so the caretakers did not seem to have.

This debate over the role of the caretakers has become particularly relevant now that the caretakers are being used for a purpose not contemplated even in the constitutional provision creating them, which was not in the original constitutional scheme, but which was introduced by Ziaul Haq’s RCO. They were supposed to end accusations by the opposition of rigging, and had as their backdrop the 1977 elections, when the sitting government remained in place during the elections, as was supposed to happen in all countries practising the parliamentary form of government. The accusations of rigging have not died down, and have merely been shifted to the caretakers. Also, caretakers have now become a way for the  powers that be to put together a government of technocrats that make long-term plans they have no business making.

The example of Bangladesh shows the dilemma. Since the caretaker system was removed, the Awami League has had an unbroken chain of victories in elections, where there had been an alternation of power before. The caretakers were only abolished after one caretaker government overstayed its mandate, the so-called ‘Bangladesh model’, where the Bangladesh Army backed this overstaying, and used this as an alternative to taking over. The caretaker provision may need to be abolished, but that can only be done by a constitutional amendment, which can only be done by Parliament, to which elections are yet to be held. Indeed, a date is yet to be set for the polls.