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February 9, 2018

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ECP likely to call the shots for interim set-ups

ECP likely to call the shots for interim set-ups

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will spring into action to nominate the caretaker prime minister/chief ministers from amongst the specific, recommended names only if constitutionally-mandated politicians failed to decide on interim set-ups.

The ECP, meaning the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and its four members, can’t add any name on their own to the lists provided to it by the parliamentary committees as proposed by the outgoing prime minister/ chief ministers and leaders of the opposition. The CEC and four members will take the decision by consensus or majority.

As per the Constitution, at no stage does the Supreme Court or any other judicial forum come in to nominate the interim premier/chief ministers. Considering the prevailing high tension that has the potential of heightening in the days to come because of the approaching general elections, it is unlikely that the consultees hailing from lethally-opposed political parties will reach a consensus on the interim prime minister/chief ministers.

Although, the caretakers have a very limited role to play, every side wants its choice to be the prime minister/chief ministers on the ground that it may benefit in the forthcoming polls, courtesy to the interim arrangements. The selection will naturally become smooth and hassle-free if one party concedes as happened when Abbasi consented to Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal’s name as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman.

In any case, there will be a serious clash of preferences in the Punjab because it is impossible that the PML-N and PTI will agree on one name. At least six political parties will have a dominant constitutional say in the appointment of caretaker prime minister/chief ministers who will supervise the upcoming general elections. However, the process to pick up these caretakers has not so far been started. The interim set-ups have to be selected before the expiry of the term of the present assemblies by end-May.

The prime minister/chief ministers and leaders of opposition belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Mutahidda Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and PML-Q will mainly choose the top caretakers as required under the Constitution.

In the case of the interim premier, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the PML-N and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah of the PPP are the principal constitutional consultees to decide on a consensus name, otherwise the other mechanism of parliamentary committee to resolve the matter will come into play.

Similarly, the outgoing chief ministers and opposition leaders in the provincial assemblies will hold consultations to cherry-pick the caretaker chiefs for Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif of the PML-N and Mian Mehmoodur Rashid of the PTI will hold such consultations to opt for a unanimous chief minister of the Punjab. In Sindh, PPP Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and MQM-P’s opposition leader Khawaja Izharul Hassan will do this job. Likewise, in KP PTI’s Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak and JUI-F’s Maulana Lutfur Rehman will pick up the caretakers’ head.

In Balochistan, PML-Q’s Chief Minister Abdus Qaddus Bizenjo and JUI-F’s Abdul Wasey will decide the next chief of the interim set-up. Abdul Wasey continues to be shown as the opposition leader, elected in 2013, on the website of the Balochistan Assembly although his party had voted for Bizenjo while the National Party of Hasil Bizenjo and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party of Mehmood Achakzai had opposed him, qualifying to claim the office of the leader of the opposition.

At the federal level, the president of Pakistan will appoint the caretaker prime minister in consultation with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khursheed Shah. In the case of provinces, the respective governors will nominate the interim chief ministers in consultation with the outgoing provincial chiefs and opposition leaders.

The Article 224A says in case the premier and the leader of opposition do not agree on any person to be appointed as the caretaker prime minister within three days of the dissolution of the National Assembly, they shall forward two nominees each to a committee to be immediately constituted by Speaker [Sardar Ayaz Sadiq] comprising eight members of the outgoing lower house, or the Senate, or both, having equal representation from the treasury and the opposition, to be nominated by the prime minister and the opposition leader respectively.

In case, the chief minister and the opposition leader in the outgoing provisional assembly do not agree on any person to be appointed as the caretaker chief minister within three days of its dissolution, they shall forward two nominees each to a committee to be immediately constituted by its speaker comprising six members of the outgoing assembly having equal representation from the treasury and the opposition, to be nominated by the chief minister and the opposition leader respectively.

The committees so constituted shall finalise the name of the caretaker prime minister or interim chief minister, as the case may be, within three days of the referral of the matter to them. But in case of inability of the committee(s) to decide the matter in the given period, the names of the nominees shall be referred to the ECP for final decision within two days.

The incumbent prime minister/chief ministers shall continue to hold office till appointment of the caretakers’ chiefs. If the opposition members are less than five in parliament and less than four in any provincial assembly, all of them shall be included in the respective parliamentary committee, which shall be deemed to be duly constituted. Under the Constitution, the fresh elections have to be held within sixty days of the assemblies’ dissolution by the prime minister/chief ministers.

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