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December 3, 2019

No movement forward on new CEC appointment

Top Story

December 3, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The same route of the bipartisan parliamentary committee that failed to break the deadlock on the appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been adopted again.

The difference from the previous botched exercise is that National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani have forwarded six names, three each from the two consultees--Prime Minister Imran Khan and leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif--to the parliamentary forum that meets on Tuesday to take up the matter.

However, there is no movement forward on the nomination of the new chief election commissioner (CEC) as the incumbent Justice (R) Sardar Raza retires on December 6. The opposition leader has made public his three choices—Nasir Mehmood Khosa (brother of Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa), Akhlaq Tarar and Jalil Abbas Jilani (a relative of former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani)—and informed the speaker and chairman accordingly, while the prime minister is yet to make his selections. The process can’t move ahead if one consultee doesn’t give out his favourites.

Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah, while declaring the presidential notification for the appointment of two ECP members to represent Sindh and Balochistan, who had been recommended by the premier, ignoring the preferences of the opposition leader, had directed the speaker and chairman to approach the two consultees to decide the new CEC and the two ECP members and report to him by December 5.

If the next CEC and the two ECP members or at least one of them was not nominated before Sardar Raza’s retirement, the ECP would become dysfunctional because a minimum of three members with or without CEC have to be in place all the time to keep the electoral body in operation.

With the non-functionality of the ECP, cases about funding of PTI, PPP and PML-N would come to a grinding halt.

The 12-member parliamentary committee was earlier unable to reach agreement on the names proposed by the premier and the opposition leader. It has equal representation of the ruling alliance and opposition parties. It held three unproductive meetings in which no side agreed to the names suggested by the other, which led to the unbreakable stalemate. After that the president notified two ECP members from amongst the nominees of the prime minister.

Headed by Federal Minister Dr Shirin Mazari, the parliamentary committee comprises five PTI members including herself – Ministers Ali Muhammad Khan, Muhammadmian Soomro and Azam Swati, and Kashmir Committee Chairman Fakhar Imam. Besides, independent Naseebullah Bazai also stands with the government.

On the other hand, the opposition parties are represented in the committee by Murtaza Javed Abbasi, Dr Nisar Ahmad Cheema and Mushahidullah Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Syed Khurshid Shah (in prison because of National Accountability Bureau case) and Sikandar Mandhro of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Ms Shahida Akhtar Ali belonging to the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

The Constitution is silent on how to break the logjam if the two consultees and the parliamentary committee are unable to decide the appointments. A few weeks back, the government announced to approach the Supreme Court for interpretation of the relevant constitutional articles so as to get rid of the deadlock. It was not done. Now, the PML-N has made it public that it will go to the apex court for the same purpose.

According to the Constitution, the prime minister and opposition leader have equal powers to decide about the CEC and ECP members.

They are required to evolve a consensus and if they fail, they will refer the lists of their nominees to the parliamentary committee. Nothing is provided about what will happen if this forum is also not in a position to reach a conclusion.

As the new CEC and ECP members will supervise the next general elections, the ruling alliance and the opposition parties are insistent upon having their recommendations inducted in these positions.

In the past, the two sides (a different premier and a different opposition leader) had arrived at an accord, which resulted in smooth inductions.

The positions of ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan have been lying vacant since January following retirement of Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and Shakeel Baloch.

The prime minister has proposed the names of retired Justice Sadiq Bhatti, retired Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi and Abdul Jabbar Qureshi to represent Sindh as ECP member. Similarly, he has suggested Dr Faiz Kakar, Mir Naveed Jan Baloch, a businessman and a former caretaker minister in the provincial government, and former district and sessions judge, Quetta, Amanullah Baloch for the Balochistan seat.

The opposition leader has recommended the names of senior Supreme Court lawyer Shah Mohammad Jatoi, former advocate general Mohammad Rauf Atta and Raheela Durrani for the ECP member from Balochistan.

Likewise, he has recommended the names of Nisar Durrani, retired Justice Abdul Rasul Memon, former registrar of the Sindh High Court, and Aurangzeb Haq as ECP member from Sindh.