Why Pak needs a caretaker govt during elections?
Pakistan on Monday, May 28, picked a former chief justice Nasirul Mulk as the country's caretaker prime minister after a lot of tussle. Mulk will oversee the governance after the current parliament is dissolved after May 31 and till a new government is formed after the July 25 elections.
This arrangement of having a caretaker government in place during the transition period between two full-fledged governments is still practised in Pakistan. It was also prevalent in Bangladesh since the mid-1990s to ensure fair elections but was done away with in 2011 by the country's parliament. Pakistan has also seen six caretaker prime minister since 1990 till the last elections in 2013 when Mir Hazar Khan Khoso served in the post between the transition of the elected governments of the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim league (Nawaz).
But what is the need for this caretaker government which comprises unelected people and who can manipulate things to hurt democratic practices to benefit influential quarters? Does the exercise of a caretaker government make Pakistan's democracy successful?
Democracy Reporting International - a non-profit organisation which works on promoting citizens' political participation, accountability of state bodies and development of democratic institutions across the globe - Pakistan is the only country in the world which follows the caretaker system while preparing for elections.
The reason for this system is to ensure an environment fit for fair elections in the country and to ensure that the day-to-day functioning of the government doesn't get hit in the absence of a full-fledged government. The caretaker government is expected to act neutrally and not try to interfere in the electoral process.
Caretaker govt is against the spirit of democracy
In reality, however, the arrangement of having a caretaker government can defeat the very purpose of democracy.
First, a caretaker government is not a government of elected people and yet holds all the powers that an elected one has since there is no regulatory guideline on this matter in Pakistan at the moment. It is against the spirit of democracy.
Secondly, the caretaker government's decisions can prove to be inconvenient for the next elected government set to come in as it has to resort to legal route to reverse decisions taken by the caretaker government. In 2013, the Pakistan Supreme Court gave a verdict whereby all appointments, transfers and postings made by the caretaker government were invalidated, the Dawn reported.
The verdict came after PML-N's Khawaja Muhammad Asif filed a petition seeking reversal of various appointments and postings that the caretaker government of the year had put in place, the report added.
However, despite the country's 1973 constitution stressing and the top court's ruling that only elected representatives can run the state's affairs in Pakistan, no move has been made so far to put the caretaker government's functioning under a proper framework.
Thirdly, caretaker governments can also be manipulated by powerful actors who want to derail the democratic procedure and use the transition period to create problems for the state's functioning.
In India, there is no such official system of caretaker government as the departing government continues to look after the state of affairs under certain election codes of conduct and the incumbent chief executive resigns only after the election results come out. An acting prime minister might take over in case there is a sudden death of the incumbent.
However, in the past there have been confusions over caretaker governments of sort under Charan Singh, IK Gujral and Atal Behari Vajpayee since the Indian Constitution doesn't speak about caretaker governments but they were cases of exceptions in coalition rule and not the law in Indian democracy (even the Indian president KR Narayanan said in 1997 that the then government of Gujral was not a caretaker government and could use full authority with discretion), unlike in Pakistan where it is a ritual.
Pakistan needs to find a better alternative to its system of caretaker government if it wants its democratic functioning to have continuity and less risk of getting rigged by evil forces. At the moment, it has a vulnerable practice in place.