Tuesday October 26, 2021

Leaving opposition crying foul: Govt poised to have its nominees as ECP members

By  Tariq Butt
October 14, 2021
Leaving opposition crying foul: Govt poised to have its nominees as ECP members

ISLAMABAD: Leaving the opposition parties fuming, the government is set to get its nominees appointed as the two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and bulldoze its controversial electoral reforms and amendments in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law in a joint session of parliament on Thursday.

The ruling coalition has a majority in the parliamentary committee on the appointment of ECP members and in the parliament to unilaterally push through the items of its choice with the process of consultations with the opposition now a non-starter.

With no further exchange of letters between leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif and Prime Minister Imran Khan, a meeting of the parliamentary committee has been summoned where the names proposed by the two in their first-ever letters to each other would be presented.

The government is likely to get its nominees approved by the panel as it has a one-vote edge over the opposition in the 11-member committee.

Headed by Dr Shireen Mazari, the panel consists of five members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) plus one independent belonging to Balochistan, Naseebullah Bazai. He is likely to go with the government to defeat the opposition parties. The PTI members are Pervez Khattak, Asad Umar, Shafqat Mahmood and Azam Swati apart from Dr Mazari. Raja Pervez Ashraf, Dr Nisar Cheema, Shaza Fatima Khawaja, Shahida Akhtar Ali and Dr Sikandar Mandhro represent the opposition parties in the committee. The edge of one vote is sufficient to get prime minister’s choices nominated as the ECP members as the committee takes decisions either through consensus or a majority.

In his letter to the opposition leader, the prime minister had proposed the names of Ahsan Mahboob, former officer of the Police Service of Pakistan; Raja Amer Khan, advocate; and Dr Syed Pervaiz Abbas, former officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), for the vacant post of the ECP member from Punjab.

For the selection of the ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Imran Khan had recommended the names of retired Justice Ikramullah Khan; former PAS officer and currently chairman of the KP Public Service Commission Faridullah Khan; and Muzammil Khan, advocate.

In his response to the premier, Shehbaz Sharif had rejected all these recommendations. He had proposed the names of retired Justice Tariq Iftikhar Ahmed, Javed Anwar, retired justice Mushtaq Ahmed, Khalid Masood Chaudhry, Irfan Qadir and Irfan Ali for the ECP member from Punjab. Syed Afsar Shah, Sardar Hussain Shah and Sohail Altaf had been suggested by him for the ECP member from KP.

Two ECP members from Punjab and KP — Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi and Irshad Qaiser — respectively, retired on July 26 after completing their five-year constitutional term.

The summoning of the parliamentary committee makes it clear that the prime minister doesn’t want to hold further consultations with the opposition leader, and that the exchange of one letter each between the two has not resulted in a consensus on any names. The constitutional mechanism provided for these nominations is that when there is no agreement between the two, the lists of aspirants of both sides are put before the parliamentary committee for a decision.

This will be the first time that these appointments will be made on the force of a majority in the parliamentary panel rather than through discussion and consensus.

The last time, the Islamabad High Court had struck down the one-sided appointment of two ECP members, notified by President Dr Arif Alvi, and made sure that the two consultees followed the prescribed procedure. Finally, a consensus had emerged.

The government also plans to bring before the joint parliamentary sitting the use of the electronic voting machines (EVMs), i-voting for overseas Pakistanis and several other electoral reforms contained in two bills that amend the Elections Act, 2010. Since it would have a clear majority in such a session, it is in a position to get them approved. The two bills have already been rejected by the Senate standing committee on parliamentary affairs.

Not only the opposition parties but the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) too has serious objections to the use of EVMs, i-voting and several other amendments in the poll law that it has highlighted more than once in its response filed in the parliamentary committee and through other means.

Since the passage of the electoral reforms bill in the National Assembly in June, controversy has been raging over them. No meaningful and productive talks have been held between the government and the opposition. No serious effort was ever made for the purpose. Speaker Asad Qaiser has made some half-hearted attempts but to no avail. Even when there had been talk only through press statements about a dialogue with the opposition, the government had been voicing its determination to use EVMs and give the i-voting right to Pakistani expatriates in the next general elections come what may and would get the necessary legislation passed without taking the opposition on board.

The unilateral approval of the electoral reforms, NAB law amendments and appointment of the ECP members have either already been called into question in the superior courts or would be brought before them.