Hasina’s small cabinet VS caretaker government, some questions

Shakhawat Liton/The Daily Star August 7, 2012

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s proposal regarding the formation of a small cabinet on the eve of the next parliamentary election has triggered a debate on how the small cabinet will be formed and what its structure will be.

As per her proposal, the cabinet may comprise some MPs of the ruling and opposition parties. But there are some questions as to who will be the prime minister in such a cabinet. And what will be the powers and functions of the cabinet in comparison with those of the now defunct carateker government?

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One thing is clear: whoever is prime minister will be an all powerful premier in line with current constitutional provisions. And there will be a huge gap between the powers and functions of the prime minister of the small cabinet and those of the chief adviser of the caretaker government.

The premier will retain the authority to hire and fire any member of the small cabinet. The chief adviser, however, did not have such authority. Moreover, the chief adviser used to act in accordance with the advice of the council of advisers. But the premier does not need any advice from her cabinet members in order to act.

The caretaker government had limited constitutional jurisdiction. It used to discharge its functions as an interim government and carry out the routine functions of such a government and was not empowered to make any policy decision. It used to give the Election Commission all possible aid and assistance that might be required for holding the parliamentary polls.

But the small cabinet will have no such restrictions and it will be able to perform in full swing and will be able to take any policy decision which could even influence the election.

During the caretaker government regime, the president emerged as a powerful head of state as he could perform his functions without the advice of the chief adviser. Moreover, he used to ensure the accountability of the caretaker government. He also held the portfolio of the defence ministry.

But under the current constitutional provisions, when the premier remains in office, the president will need to perform all of his functions, except the appointment of the chief justice, on the advice of the prime minister. This means the premier in fact will retain the authority to exercise the powers of the president too in the name of advising him.