Caretaker governments are used in many democracies to manage the state affairs in times of an election when the current parliament is dissolved until the new government takes control. It is temporary in nature and thus, meant to oversee administrative tasks only not policy formation. A neutral caretaker government can help to ensure transparency during the electoral process.
According to the constitution, a caretaker government is to be formulated by the Treasury (government) with the consent of the opposition. Of particular significance is the caretaker Prime Minister, which will be a joint selection of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. If a consensus does not emerge within the stipulated 3 day duration, the treasury and the opposition would each submit 2 nominations to an 8 member committee, having equal representation from the government and the opposition. If this committee fails to reach a consensus on one of the four names then the matter will be forwarded to the Chief Election Commissioner who must announce his decision within 2 days. This procedure will also be applicable at the provincial level between the Chief Minister and the leader of opposition in the provincial assemblies.
The political sphere is buzzing with potential candidates for the position for a caretaker PM. The choice of Fakhruddin Ebrahim as the CEC has been appreciated by politicians across the spectrum. But analysts feel that Ebrahim would be most useful if he is paired with an energetic caretaker PM who is respected by political parties and accepted by the executive so that decisions can be implemented without the political scenario descending in chaos. Sources close to the president have assured that the caretaker PM would not have any affiliations with political parties so some credence can be given to hints that human right activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir, UN envoy Hussain Haroon and former finance minister Shaukat Tarin and even our current Finance Minister, Hafeez Sheikh are possible nominees.
Jahangir has been very vocal in upholding the sanctity of the judiciary and opposed interferences from the establishment in its domain. Furthermore, it is expected that she will click well with CEC since both of them belong to the legal fraternity. On the other hand, a diplomats experience like that of Haroon could be insightful to manage both internal and external matters till the new government takes control. But his connections with Zardari could taint him as an unbiased candidate. In Tarin and Sheikh we see the possibility of an economist for a caretaker PM which may hold the promise of the successful turnaround for Pakistan’s weak economy. But as the technocratic caretaker government of Bangladesh showed such a model backfired when it overstepped its boundaries by meddling in party politics.
Although the matter of a caretaker government is of a very serious nature, political parties could not refrain from playing a little chicanery. Rumors about some back channel deal between the PPP and PML-N, the largest party in the opposition, began to surface.
If these dealing are true, then like most of Pakistan’s caretaker governments the upcoming caretaker government has also been compromised. This could be the classic application of “keep your friends close but your enemies closer”. Together Zardari and Sharif could reduce, if not completely wipe out, Imran Khan’s chances of winning. PTI leaders have shown great dismay at these tactics. According to them, consensus of all parties for the caretaker government must be obtained, even those parties which are not present in the parliament. This alleged deal could also be a way in which PPP indicates parliamentary superiority to the judiciary which has recently been meddling in the affair of the government, a little too much for the liking of certain politicians.
But even if these rumors are fallacious, it can go to shatter the confidence of the public in the electoral process and worse, democracy itself. PML-N has denied any such meetings and continues to emphasize the supremacy of the constitution. Similarly, close sources to the PPP have clearly said that the party intends to adhere to the democratic process and hold elections at their due time. In that case, the accusations of PML-N leaders that PPP is stirring rumors to deflect attention from the July 25th deadline for the PM to write the Swiss letters holds some weightage. This preoccupation with elections could also buy PPP some time to do some damage control for the economy.
As the clock ticks and we move closer to the election time, the pressure on political parties to secure their interests also increases. But if a change has to come for the better, then the ruling parties must not dominate elections and give all political players, significant and trivial, a chance to contribute to a more representative and transparency electoral process. PML-N has shown a good sign of faith by involving PTI in discussions pertaining to the caretaker government although the constitution only mentions the Leader of the opposition to provide consent. Let’s hope this inspires other parties to stay clear from robbing the democratic process.