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January 6, 2020

Deadlock on appointment of CEC, ECP members continues


January 6, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The government and opposition parties are likely to propose new names for the posts of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in place of their previous nominees.

This will be done due to gross differences over the previous names suggested by the two constitutional consultees – Prime Minister Imran Khan and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif - as they have failed to reach consensus on three names for the positions of the CEC and two ECP members. “Neither side is willing to accept the other’s proposals, and hence the deadlock continues, which may be broken with the new recommendations,” a knowledgeable source involved in the process told The News.

He said the government sides is insistent on choosing Babar Yaqoob Fateh as the CEC while the opposition is equally adamant not to agree to his choice. The opposition has turned down the official offer that its two representatives would be appointed the ECP members if it agrees to the nomination of Babar Yaqoob Fateh as the CEC, he said.

The source said that after the approval of the bill aimed at giving extension to the army chief for three years will be done by the Parliament in the next three days, the attention would divert to the ECP appointments and new recommendations would be made.

The 12-member parliamentary committee on appointment of the CEC and ECP members headed by Federal Minister Dr Shireen Mazari has held a number of meetings to hammer out a consensus but failed to make any worthwhile progress. The stalemate persists with the ECP remaining dysfunctional.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) are strongly opposed to Babar Yaqoob Fateh, saying that their narrative that the 2018 general elections were massively rigged would be damaged if he was selected. During the polls, he was the ECP secretary.

The post of the CEC is lying vacant since Dec 6 when the incumbent Sardar Raza retired whereas the positions of the two ECP members were empty for a year now.

The two constitutional consultees have not met even once to work out an agreement on these important appointments as Imran Khan is averse to any such contact with Shahbaz Sharif. However, more than once they have forwarded their recommendations to the parliamentary committee for consideration and decision as prescribed in the Constitution.

Meanwhile, Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah has once again prodded elected representatives to resolve the ECP appointments instead of looking towards other forums for remedy. This is not the first time he has articulated this view. He has consistently urged the MPs to sort out the issues and avoid approaching other forums including superior courts for the purpose. He has reiterated his confidence that people’s elected representatives will not undermine the sanctity, authority and supremacy of the Parliament and will resolve the matter of appointment of CEC and two ECP members in conformity with the spirit of the constitutional provisions.

In just one month’s time, he has given three extensions in the timeline to the lawmakers to make these nominations. For the first time, while striking down the unilateral selection of two ECP members by the government ignoring Shahbaz Sharif’s recommendations, he involved Speaker Asad Qaisar and Senate chairman in the process so that the ECP nominations are made and directed them to report the progress to him.

On Dec 5, Justice Minallah was informed that the speaker and chairman are making efforts but the issue is still to be resolved. He then gave them another ten days. However, they remained unable to hammer out the contentious matter. For the third time, he gave them another two weeks.

This time, he resolved the issue of rules, governing the parliamentary committee, that the government side claimed has been hampering the proceedings. He held that the present body can make its own rules and the old ones made in 2011 were not applicable to it. However, the rules can be made with majority in the committee and neither the government nor the opposition has it as they have equal representation.

He said that the present parliamentary committee is at liberty to make separate rules for regulating its procedure. It is obvious from the cumulative reading of the relevant provisions that the rules made in 2011 are not binding on the current committee.

Justice Minallah noted that the spirit of constitutional provisions contemplates that recommendations would be made through consensus. This is an onerous duty of the premier and opposition. Nonetheless, if it is not possible to make recommendations through consensus, then the parliamentary committee members are expected to achieve the object described in the Constitution by adopting democratic procedures and principles, he stated.