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December 16, 2019

CEC appointment: Either you select ECP head from our list or allow us to select one from your!

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December 16, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Either you select the next chief election commissioner (CEC) from our list or allow us to pick up the one from your nominees, is the message the opposition representatives have conveyed to the ruling coalition leaders in the parliamentary panel. It was communicated during three meetings of the parliamentary committee on appointment of the CEC and two Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) members, headed by Human Rights Minister Dr Shirin Mazari. “However, the government side is insistent on choosing the incumbent ECP secretary, Capt (R) Babar Yaqoob Fateh as the CEC,” a senior opposition leader told The News. He said at least two opposition parties have made it clear that they would not agree to Babar Yaqoob Fateh, otherwise, their whole narrative that the July 2018 general elections were rigged would fall flat. “We will be taunted and tantalised by our detractors about the collapse of our well-considered stand about the polls.”

These parties, the opposition leader said, are of the opinion that the ECP secretary was part of the electoral manipulation plan by virtue of his office to deprive them of their due share in the victory and did not do anything to stop it although he was in a position to do so.

However, a source close to Babar Yaqoob Fateh told this correspondent that the ECP secretary’s track record as bureaucrat for decades shows that he always expressed his opinion bluntly without bothering that it would annoy anybody. “He used to do the same during his incumbency as the chief secretary of Balochistan.”

When contacted, former National Assembly Speaker and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq expressed the hope that efforts to hammer out unanimity on the next CEC and ECP members would be successful if a spirit of accommodation was displayed and the reticence to impose its will was shunned because it is democracy and not dictatorship where decisions can be thrusted on others, who are equally powerful.

Meanwhile, a knowledgeable PML-N source told The News that the Sharifs, who were currently in London in connection with the medial treatment of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have conveyed to the opposition members of the parliamentary committee that they should not consent to Babar Yaqoob Fateh’s name because of his role in the previous general elections.

The opposition representatives have told the ruling coalition side that the appropriate way was to either let them nominate the CEC from the list comprising three nominees given by it. Or it should select the CEC from the opposition’s three names.

As widely anticipated, a deadlock continues to prevail. Attempts are also being made in the parliamentary body for a quid pro quo --the opposition should name the ECP members of their choice to represent Sindh and Balochistan and the government should nominate the CEC of its preference.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has recommended Babar Yaqoob Fateh, retired bureaucrats Arif Khan and Fazal Abbas Maken for the office of the CEC. Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif has proposed former civil servants, including Nasir Mahmood Khosa, Akhlaque Tarar and Jalal Abbas Jilani.

In the meantime, the hearing on a petition filed by all the opposition parties, seeking interpretation of Article 213 of the Constitution and other related provisions, in the Supreme Court is yet to be fixed for hearing. The plea was submitted just before the parliamentary committee started deliberations to appoint the CEC and the ECP members.

From the lists given by the two sides, it is clear that a retired bureaucrat is going to make it to the prestigious constitutional post of the CEC after over four decades. Both the consultees – the prime minister and opposition leader-- preferred not to recommend the name of even a single former superior court judge.

Babar Yaqoob Fateh is serving as the ECP secretary since May 15, 2015 and held this position during the last parliamentary polls. He was due to retire as the civil servant in October, 2015, a few months after his appointment. However, he was given three-year contract/extension to continue in his office. Two weeks before this extended term was to expire on Oct 31, 2018, the CEC prolonged his stay by another 14 months.

Nasir Mahmood Khosa was once nominated by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as the caretaker chief minister of Punjab but later dropped on the recommendations of some.

As required under the Constitution, the two lists are being discussed by the parliamentary committee confirmation of one of the recommended names if a consensus reaches, or majority supported it. No constitutionally mandated consultation was held between the prime minister and opposition leader.

As the stalemate continues on the choice of the CEE, gridlock also persists on selecting the ECP members from amongst six names, suggested by the two consultees. Neither the ruling alliance nor the opposition parties have majority in the 12-member parliamentary party, which has equal representation of the two sides.

Besides Dr Mazari, the government is represented in the forum by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Muhammad Khan, Kashmir Committee Chairman Syed Fakhar Imam, Federal Minister Azam Swati and Naseebullah Bazai (independent). Javed Murtaza Abbasi, former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Dr Nisar Ahmad Cheema, Ms Shahida Akhtar Ali, Dr Sikandar Mandhro and Mushahidullah Khan belong to the opposition parties.