Are there any other countries besides Bangladesh where the incumbent government is formally replaced by a caretaker in the period immediately before a general election? I do not know of such a case.
There have been several days of rioting in Bangladesh as the main parties have failed to agree on who the interim leader should be. Now the President has been sworn in as interim head, but the primary opposition party, the Awami League, does not recognize him for this role.
In fact, unlike the presidencies in most parliamentary democracies, Bangladesh’s presidency is in no way a neutral and primarly ceremonial figure. He is appointed by the same majority as that which appoints the prime minister and cabinet, and to the same term. He is thus a bad candiate for a “caretaker” role.
But the very idea of a caretaker to administer elections is rather odd. Given the history of government intervention in elections in Bangladesh, the aim of a neutral campaign-period government is sensible, but this institutional “solution” is clearly less optimal than would be the establishment of an independent electoral commission. In fact, arguably the chimera of a neutral caretaker government–and the resulting conflict over who will head it–is worse than leaving the incumbent government to administer the elections, as is the case everywhere else that I know of.
I acknowledge the work of SK, a student from last spring’s Institutional Engineering and Democracy course, who wrote a really interesting paper on elections and institutional reform in Bangladesh.