The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has agreed in principle to appoint Justice (retd) Munir A Sheikh as the new chief election commissioner (CEC), The Express Tribune has learnt.
Already a parliamentary panel on the chief election commissioner’s appointment has been asked to build a consensus on the name of Justice Sheikh, highly credible sources said.
On April 29, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had picked out three potential candidates for the post during a meeting with retired judges of the superior courts at his residence in DHA Lahore, sources said.
Afterwards, the prime minister sent the shortlisted names to Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the opposition leader in the National Assembly, under constitutional clause 213.
Chaudhry Nisar, however, rejected all three candidates and even questioned the authority of a ‘convicted’ Gilani whom he called a ‘stranger’ for parliament.
Stung by Chaudhry Nisar’s rejection, the prime minister then sent the names to the parliamentary panel on the appointment of CEC as per constitutional requirements, sources added.
The 12-member committee has equal representation from the government and opposition with one-third of its members drawn from the upper house of parliament.
Currently, the ruling coalition is represented on the committee by the PPP’s Khursheed Shah, Arif Aziz Sheikh and Islamuddin Shaikh, MQM’s Farooq Sattar, PML-Q’s Chaudhry Ghias Mela and ANP’s Haji Adeel.
The PML-N, the main opposition grouping, has five members on the panel including Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Zahid Hamid, Tehmina Daultana and Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch and Raja Zafarul Haq.
Maulana Ghafoor Haidri is the sole JUI-F representative on the panel.
According to an official of the PPP, Khursheed Shah has convened a meeting of the parliamentary committee on Monday (today) to pick up one name from the three sent by the prime minister.
Why the sudden rush?
Sources said that the conviction of Premier Gilani by the apex court in a contempt case has prompted the ruling party to appoint Justice Sheikh as CEC to avoid any legal action from the Election Commission.
Justice Shakirullah Jan, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, has been acting as CEC since the retirement of Justice (retd) Aqil Mirza earlier this year.
Under Article 63 (2) of the Constitution, the National Assembly speaker has to decide a reference against the premier within 30 days of its receipt. Now the PPP strategy is that the speaker will exonerate Gilani before May 25 before it automatically goes to the poll commission.
PPP fears that Justice Shakirullah may disqualify Premier Gilani, if the reference reaches the commission, sources said.
Justice (retd) Sheikh
Justice Sheikh, a close associate of slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, enjoys good relation with Gilani, sources said, adding that Justice Sheikh also has personal bias against the Sharif brothers since his days at the Lahore High Court.
Parliamentary committee’s meeting
In today’s parliamentary committee meeting, Khursheed Shah will try to create a consensus on the name of Justice Sheikh. But if the opposition’s six members decide to boycott the committee’s meetings for an indefinite period, the PPP would get Justice Sheikh’s name approved with majority in a second meeting of the committee.
If the opposition decides to attend the meeting and vote against the PPP’s nominee, the ruling party would try and convince JUI-F’s to support Justice Sheikh for the slot of CEC.
Sources, however, said that the PML-N would not boycott the committee’s meetings and would instead oppose all of the PPP’s nominees. The party is likely to float alternate names, sources added.
PML-N’s Abdul Qadir Balooch confirmed to The Express Tribune that they would not boycott the committee’s meetings and would rather oppose the PPP’s nominees. He added that the party would devise its strategy before the start of the meeting today.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.