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April 29, 2019

Govt-opposition standoff pushing key issues to backburner


April 29, 2019

ISLAMABAD: There is no tangible progress on the appointment of two new members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), amending the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law, extending the military courts’ tenure and briefing on the National Action Plan (NAP) because of intensifying tensions between the ruling coalition and opposition parties.

“We are unaware of any movement forward on filling up the two ECP vacancies after leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif responded to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s letter on April 10,” former Speaker and prominent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq told The News when contacted.

Nothing has been heard from any side about the nomination of the ECP members over the past three weeks. These vacancies were required to be filled up by mid-March as required under the Constitution.

Ayaz Sadiq said that claims on the floor of the National Assembly apart, there has been no discussion between the two parties on changing the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) to undo its draconian clauses, which do not exist in any country of the world.

He said even the amendments recommended by the Supreme Court in the NAO more than once have not been carried out what to speak of the changes suggested by the opposition parties.

The former speaker, who is one of the main negotiators representing the PML-N in the opposition parties with the government and who is always contacted by the other side for any parleys, said no talks whatsoever were being held. No dialogue is planned, he said and added that there is a complete stalemate.

While responding to the prime minister’s letter, the opposition leader had in a seven-page communication on April 10 finally proposed names for the appointment as ECP members from Balochistan and Sindh. This followed two earlier letters from Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s principal secretary and their replies by Shahbaz Sharif, rejecting them.

In his last letter, the opposition leader recommended the names of Balochistan High Court Bar Association President Shah Mohammad Jatoi; former Balochistan High Court (BHC) Chief Justice Mohammad Noor Meskanzai, and ex-advocate general of Balochistan Mohammad Rauf Ata for the Balochistan seat. For the Sindh post, he preferred the names of retired justice of the Sindh High Court (SHC) Abdul Rasool Memon; prominent lawyer Khalid Javed Khan; and former Islamabad High Court judge Noorul Haq Qureshi.

Earlier, the prime minister suggested the names of Amanullah Baloch, ex-district and sessions judge, Quetta; Munir Kakar, a lawyer; and Mir Naveed Jan Baloch, a businessman and a former caretaker minister in the provincial government, for their nomination as ECP member from Balochistan. He recommended the names of Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui, a lawyer; former SHC judge Farrukh Zia Sheikh; and Iqbal Mehmood, retired inspector-general of police Sindh, for nomination for the Sindh seat.

It was widely believed that after two the constitutional consultees came out with their proposed names without face-to-face consultations, these nominees will be forwarded to the bipartisan parliamentary committee having equal representation of the governing coalition and opposition parties, to hold hearing and confirmation of the requisite number of ECP members. However, this has not been done, and the vacancies in the ECP continue to exist.

With the government-opposition confrontation permeating unabated, there have also been no contacts between the two over the extension of the military courts’ tenure to try civilian terrorists.

“We have no idea what the government wants to do with the extension of the military courts,” Ayaz Sadiq said. “Unless we are approached for talks, we will not know what it wants.”

According to Parliametnary Affairs Minister Azam Swati, the government plans to brief the opposition on the NAB. However, these parties have made it known that they are unlikely to be part of the process for the reason that they want such briefing in the parliament.

Earlier, the foreign minister had invited the opposition parties to such a session on March 28, but it had to be cancelled after the other side boycotted it. Through a letter, the leader of the opposition had told Qureshi that the briefing would be acceptable only if it was given by the prime minister in parliament.

The former speaker said that the government has not approached the opposition for the May 2 briefing on the NAP.

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