Caretaker Governments in Pakistan - By: Munir M Hasan, PhD

As 2018 is approaching, people in Pakistan have started talking about the next caretaker government.

In some countries where the Westminster type system of governments are operating, caretaker governments are put in place. But it happens only when a government is defeated in a motion of no confidence, or in the case when the house to which the government is responsible is dissolved abruptly, to be in place, from amongst the already-elected members, for an interim period until an election is held and a new government is formed. The caretaker government is simply the incumbent government, which continues to operate in the interim period between the dissolution of parliament for the purpose of holding an election and the formation of a new government after the election results are known. Unlike in ordinary times, these caretaker government's activities are limited by custom and convention.

However, in Pakistan the case is different and it represents a unique case. Pakistan is the only country where non-elected officials are appointed to form a caretaker government. The apparent purpose of this sort of cabinet in Pakistan is to create a conducive environment for genuine elections, ensuring the neutrality of the government to facilitate a smooth transfer of power from one elected government to another as a non-partisan administration. It has been done so because the successive governments in the past are believed to exercise their powers in favour of their parties and nobody believed that the elections were held fairly and honestly. At the same time, the mandate and functioning of caretaker governments are not defined in the law. The appointment procedure of the caretaker Prime Minister is defined in the constitution, but neither its neutrality is assured nor its functioning is laid down in the constitution or any other primary law or regulatory code. In the absence of a regulatory framework, the caretaker government legally holds the power of an elected government.

. Since 1990, six caretaker Prime Ministers have been appointed in Pakistan as under:

Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi (6 August 1990 to 6 November 1990)
Balakh Sher Mazari (18 April 1993 to 26 May 1993)
Moeenuddin Ahmad Qureshi (18 July 1993 to 19 October 1993)
Malik Meraj Khalid (5 November 1996 to 17 February 1997)
Muhammad Mian Soomro (16 November 2007 to 25 March 2008)
Justice (Retired) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso (25 March 2013 to 05 June 2013)
In spite of this arrangement, people still believe that no election has ever been held fairly and honestly. For example, in the last general elections held in 2013, which were held under the supervision of a retired Chief Justice of Federal Shariat Court as the caretaker Prime Minister, and a retired Judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan as the Chief Election Commissioner, almost all the parties claimed that the elections were not fair. PTI demanded that in order to confirm that large-scale rigging was done, to open just four constituencies as a test case. The government did not accept that demand initially, but after a sit-in for 126 days in Islamabad and with the intervention of Pak Army, all the four constituencies were opened. The rigging was confirmed and the bye-elections were held in these constituencies. So, even the two honourable retired Justices of the superior judiciary were unable to conduct fair elections.

It is really a matter of shame that in Pakistan neither the regular incumbent governments nor the caretaker governments were ever able to conduct fair elections. It is generally believed that 1971 elections were the only elections which were held fairly, but only a few people know that there was no need of any interference because the stage was already set to get the desired results of separating former East Pakistan. Even the scheme of appointing caretaker governments has failed completely. It has two devastating aspects. One, the people have lost confidence that in Pakistan elections can ever be held fairly. The other aspect is more serious. By the successive failures of the governments to hold fair elections, Pakistan has shown to the world that it is a nation of dishonest people, and has lost the honour and dignity in the eyes of the world.

In my opinion, this situation is due to the fact that the constitutional and other legal institutions in Pakistan have collapsed completely. The public servants are supposed to follow the laws without accepting any pressures from any quarter. However, the corrupt governments have been appointing corrupt people in the key positions of the governments with the result that when the caretaker governments are formed, these powerful and consciousless people sitting on the key positions simply fulfill the aims of the people who appointed them, with the result that the whole purpose of forming the caretaker governments is lost. Even the proposal of forming a government consisting of technocrats will not work because of the same reasons.

In my opinion, the only way to conduct fair elections in Pakistan is to make the institutions strong to be headed by the honest and responsible persons. If the government machinery is made honest, then there will be no need to form a caretaker government and the elections can be held fairly even by the incumbent governments. However, the million dollar question is, how this target can be achieved and who will do it?

Posted on Dec 06, 17 | 11:30 pm