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January 18, 2020

Ex-bureaucrat heading to make it to CEC slot

National

January 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD: For a change, three sworn political rivals--Prime Minister Imran Khan, ex-premier Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman--are said to be on the same page on appointing retired bureaucrat Raja Sultan Sikandar as next Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).

They have concurred to his name for their own reasons. Every selector believes that Sultan Sikandar, son-in-law of Saeed Mehdi, the former principal secretary of Nawaz Sharif, is more close to him than the other.

Credible circles told The News that before the government informally proposed Sultan Sikandar to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on Thursday, the aspirant had established contacts with Nawaz Sharif for support, which was forthcoming. At the same time, the hopeful activated his communication channels with the Jamiat Ulemae Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief, who too approved his name, they say.

These quarters feel that when the bipartisan parliamentary committee on appointment of CEC and Election of Pakistan (ECP) members reconvenes on Monday, a consensus was going to emerge on Sultan Sikandar unless some last-minute unexpected hiccup spoils the unanimity.

They say that the PML-N and JUI-F will talk to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to take it on board on this nominee and express the hope that Asif Ali Zardari will have no objection to it. The PPP proposed the name of former Attorney General Irfan Qadir, which was rejected by other opposition parties.

These circles say the PPP will agree to the choice of the PML-N and JUI-F for the position of the CEC as they pushed its nominee from Sindh, Nasir Durrani, in the parliamentary body that the government has also accepted.

They say when Nawaz Sharif was incarcerated in the Landhi Jail in 2000, Sultan Sikandar used to visit his father-in-law, who was also in the same prison in connection with the plane hijacking case, and will also always meet the former prime minister in the facility. Nawaz Sharif would subsequently say that Sultan Sikandar is the only bureaucrat he knows, they claim.

Sultan Sikandar recently retired in Grade 22 after working as the chief secretary of Azad Kashmir and federal secretary of various ministries. He also once served as the Director, Land, Capital Development Authority (CDA). His brother, Wasal Fakhar Sultan Raja, is a senior police officer. His brother-in-law and son of Saeed Mehdi, Aamer Ahmad, who is currently the CDA chairman, is a favourite officer of the present government.

Because of the apparent accord among the three political players due to their own preferences, the logjam over the selection of the new CEC is going to be broken. The constitutional post is vacant since December 6 when former Judge Sardar Raza retired, rendering the ECP dysfunctional. The parliamentary committee was going to take up the issue of CEC’s appointment on Friday but couldn’t as when it met, the prime minister’s fresh letter dated January 15 was not placed before it. It contained two new names, Sultan Sikandar and Jamil Ahmed, while the third one, Fazal Abbas Maken included in the previous communication, was also incorporated in it. Jamil Ahmed, also a retired civil servant, is currently the chairman of the Adjudicating Authority established under Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act.

Now, leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif will also propose three nominees or instead of suggesting them, may agree to one of the names recommended by the prime minister.

As far as the selection of two ECP members to represent Sindh and Balochistan is concerned, an accord has already been reached in the parliamentary forum but it has not been made public as every side has agreed that it would be made public along with the consensus on the next CEC. The government has accepted the nominations of the opposition parties for the two provinces.

Earlier, both sides had rejected each other’s nominees for the CEC’s office and agreed to come out with new names. The government had insisted on nominating former ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh, who was also the choice of some other quarters, but the opposition did not oblige.

In case of choice of Sultan Sikandar as the CEC and opposition’s nominees Nasir Durrani and Shah Mahmood Jatoi as ECP members to represent Sindh and Balochistan respectively, the ECP is going to be dominated by the non-former judges of superior courts after several decades.

Such a composition will throw up two retired bureaucrats, one lawyer, and two former judges, who are already members of the ECP. Barring old exceptions, the ECP has always been run by the serving or retired judges.

Never before has such a wrangle taken place on making key appointments in the ECP. In the past, the two constitutional consultees--the prime minister and opposition leader-- always greed on certain names that made the entire process smooth.

The current exercise of appointing CEC and two ECP members turned out to be very protracted because there have been no direct consultations between Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif to reach consensus because of the former’s antipathy to have any such contact with the latter. They kept exchanging the names of the aspirants through letters, which landed in the parliamentary committee that too has been unable to arrive at an agreement.