The unending saga of the caretakers

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Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam looks at a futile practice

Moeen Qureshi

Pakistan manages its governance through parliamentary democracy and despite that, it is the only country where an incumbent government hands over power to a caretaker administration to conduct the process of elections and then transfer power. This time round also in a funny spectacle the sitting prime minister, with no fault of his own, parleyed six times with the opposition leader (more funny) and they mutually decided to hand over power to an interim set up headed by an unelected retired judge.

Surprisingly, every sane person noted the oddity but no one from the circles that matter in the country uttered a word. No one complained that an unconnected person has no right to run the country without having the popular mandate behind him. The logic of this untenable practice in the contemporary world is beyond comprehension.

The difficulty in conducting the electoral process began when the first popularly elected PM Bhutto was accused of manipulating the results of1977 elections and a fierce campaign against electoral malpractices dethroned him. By ousting Bhutto the military ruler, Gen Zia -ul- Haq snapped the door shut on electoral politics for 8 years and when he allowed resumption of political activity it was against the basic tenet of parliamentary democracy as elections were held on no-party basis. The process was however overseen by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) under the incumbent executive.

After the demise of Gen Zia, elections were held under ECP in 1988 during the incumbency of president Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) resulting in bringing Benazir Bhutto to power against the wishes of GIK and the establishment constituency he represented but he soon dismissed her government under the powers he enjoyed according to article 58-2(b). It was his brainchild to appoint a caretaker government to supervise elections mandated within 90 days after the dismissal of the parliament. The ever-eager Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, discarded ‘uncle’ of Benazir, who fervently nursed the desire to become prime minister accepted GIK‘s offer with alacrity.

A worst choice was the 84 years old Justice Mir Hazar Khan Khoso
who came as a compromise candidate preferably
selected by the then president Asif Zardari

The quick succession with which the governments fell in the 1990s gradually strengthened the presence of a caretaker administration to replace them and it soon got enshrined in the constitution simply because the establishment thought it to be a useful buffer. Subsequently, political parties did neutralise the scope of caretaker administration through amending some parts of the constitution dealing with it but distrust amongst themselves did not allow them to completely scrap it.

Since 1990 seven non-elected persons were nominated to serve as prime minister and assist ECP in holding elections; Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Moeen Qureshi, Malik Meraj Khalid, Balakh Sher Mazari, Muhammadmian Soomro, Mir Hazar Khan Khoso and Nasir-ul-Mulk. Cumulatively, their tenure comes to 18 months up to now and with the completion of the tenure of the current caretaker PM the total time they served as chief executives will come to 21 months. Their selection was incredibly opaque as no criteria were laid down for it and the result was a bunch of people who mostly had no inkling of the high executive affairs of the country.

Mir Hazar Khan Khoso
Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi
Malik Meraj Khalid
Muhammadmian Soomro

The way-word process could be gauged from the fact that two bankers were chosen for the job and one of them (Moeen Qureshi) had the dubious distinction of being installed in the powerful office of the prime minister without even holding a Pakistani National Identity Card! One PM Meraj Khalid was chosen to give a populist ring to the office as he had served as CM Punjab and was rated to be an honest politician with discernible socialist leanings.

His simplicity and weak temperament ended up rendering him completely ineffective as even provincial authorities paid no attention to him while fawning over the arrogant president Farooq Leghari. He was dejected when reportedly the then governor Sindh avoided meeting him despite the PM staying in Sindh Governor’s House!

The difficulty in conducting the electoral process
began when the first popularly elected PM Bhutto
was accused of manipulating the results of1977
elections and a fierce campaign against electoral
malpractices dethroned him

A worst choice was the 84 years old Justice Mir Hazar Khan Khoso who came as a compromise candidate preferably selected by the then president Asif Zardari. His administration was a model of inefficiency as novices were packed in his cabinet. The biggest failure of his administration was that the election results were disputed by PTI and lingering protests ensued culminating in 129 days dharna in Islamabad that disrupted lives of the inhabitants of the federal capital.

The track record of caretaker administrations had been dismal. Their brief stints were notorious for shoddy efforts at granting undue favours to their partisans and engaging in widespread nepotism. Their efficacy in conducing fair and free elections had also been rated very low. Their presence made no difference on either federal or provincial levels. They were mere dummies paraded on national and provincial stages without creating a real impact.

The current caretakers are installed with considerably diluted powers that will make their presence even more ineffective. The tussle witnessed in appointing caretakers in the provinces reveals that this ‘safety valve’ has been rendered ineffectively controversial. Prudence demands that this mechanism should be done away with and the ECP duly strengthened to undertake electoral exercise.

Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam is an educationist with wide experience

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