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August 25, 2019

Row over rules


August 25, 2019

The last thing we need at the present time is conflict or acrimony between our constitutionally set up institutions and the government. We now have a new row with Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan refusing to administer oath to two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan who he argues had been appointed without following the necessary constitutional process. The constitution lays down that members of the ECP will be agreed upon after a meeting between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. The new members are also to be appointed within 45 days of the retirement or exit of previous ECP members. Neither of this has happened.

In an unexpected development, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs issued a notification regarding the appointment of two new members of the ECP. However, both the CEC and members of the opposition pointed out that due procedure had not been followed. The opposition parties had also hinted the matter would be challenged in court had the new members been sworn in. The issue is being cited as a violation of Articles 213 and 214 of the constitution with Justice Raza Khan saying that as a former judge he cannot violate the constitution. Since the previous members retired, no consultation has taken place between the PM and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, while the parliamentary committee, which was also required to approve any names sent up, could not do so either.

In our country, it is crucial that rule of law and the constitution be followed as closely as possible, at all times and in all cases. There should be no exceptions. The response from eminent parliamentarians like former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani has been furious, pointing out that the president cannot make such appointments at his discretion. Pakistan has a history of alterations in its constitution to suit specific purposes. We need to make a departure from these norms. The opposition has asked the government to respect parliament. For the sake of harmony and to prevent further division and descent, it is vital that all institutions, and all bodies, especially the government, follow the constitution as closely as possible so that controversy and the war of words that comes with it can be avoided at all costs.

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