ISLAMABAD: The formal process for choosing caretaker prime minister kicked off on Wednesday following a meeting between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and National Assembly opposition leader Khurshid Shah in which the names of potential candidates were reportedly discussed.
The tenure of the present National Assembly will expire on May 31 which implies that the government and opposition have to agree on a candidate to head the caretaker set-up at the Centre by the given date.
The names of former chief justices of Pakistan including Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk, Justice (retd) Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Justice (retd) Jawad S Khawaja, Justice (retd) Mian Shakirullah Jan and Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk were discussed during yesterday’s meeting between Abbasi and Shah, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Apart from these names, both the sides also discussed other names including that of former State Bank governors Dr Shamshad Akhtar and Dr Ishrat Hussain, former caretaker PM Justice Mir Hazar Khan Khoso and ex-Supreme Court judge Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, according to reliable sources. Khoso was the country’s caretaker PM in 2013.
A source in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), who enjoys close association with PM Abbasi, said the premier during the meeting stressed upon reaching consensus on choosing a candidate as caretaker PM, saying the political parties should not leave space for ‘other institutions’ to intervene (in case of the elected representatives fail to reach an agreement).
Constitutionally, in case the PM, in his capacity as leader of the house, and the opposition leader in NA fail to agree on caretaker PM, the matter would land before the NA speaker who would form an eight-member parliamentary committee comprising half of the MNAs and half of the senators with two MNAs and senators from treasury and as many from opposition benches to pick a candidate as caretaker PM.
In case of not reaching consensus, the ECP would appoint a candidate as caretaker PM the way it did in 2013 when the polls body nominated Mir Hazar Khan Khoso after the government and opposition failed to agree on a candidate.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad said the leader of the house and the opposition leader in NA had time till May 31 to finalise caretaker PM’s candidate.
If they fail to do so, the parliamentary committee to be established by the NA speaker would be obligated to make a choice within 48 hours, not later than June 2, he added.
If the committee fails to come up with a name for caretaker premier, the ECP would have another 48 hours to appoint caretaker PM, not later than June 4, Dilshad explained.
“The entire process should not linger beyond June 4. Constitutionally, the caretaker PM has to be finalised by the government and opposition. However, I think there is no harm in ‘informally’ consulting the heads of other state institutions like the chef justice and the army chief regarding caretaker PM. It would help adopt an inclusive approach by taking the state institutions in the loop.”
It would not be surprising if Abbasi and Shah agree on caretaker premier, the ex-secretary ECP said. “The Pakistan Peoples Party has acted as a friendly opposition to the government since 2013. I think the PPP will not create problems for the PML-N as far as appointing caretaker PM is concerned.”
PML-N sources said the party would adopt a ‘flexible’ approach to reach an agreement over appointing caretaker PM with mutual consensus instead of allowing the ECP to make a final pick. “It will take some time and several rounds of huddles before we reach an agreement,” a senior PML-N leader said.
Like the Centre, the leader of the house and the opposition leader in NA choose caretaker chief ministers in the respective provinces.
In Punjab, the leader of the house (or the chief minister) belongs to the PML-N and the opposition leader belongs to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
In Sindh, the PPP has its chief minister and the leader of opposition belongs to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan. While in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the leader of the house belongs to the PTI and the opposition leader is from the PML-N
In Balochistan, the leader of the house formally belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (even though he has said that he is part of an independent bloc in the Balochistan Assembly) and the opposition leader is from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl.
“This is a complex situation. Even if the government and opposition reach an agreement on caretaker PM, it is not clear that will they reach consensus for caretaker CMs in the provinces,” the N-Leaguer said.