Efforts begin to stave off ECP crisis

Published: December 1, 2019


ISLAMABAD: The opposition and the government have stepped into action to ward off the crisis of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) being rendered ineffective with the chief election commissioner (CEC) set to retire on December 6 and two members of the commission yet to be appointed.

PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, has proposed three names for the post of the CEC in a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan. He wrote another letter to the National Assembly speaker and the Senate chairman, recommending names for the posts of the ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan.

Similarly, the premier also wrote to the National Assembly speaker and Senate chairman on Saturday, suggesting names for the positions of the election commission members from the two provinces.

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In a letter to PM Imran dated November 25, Shehbaz, who is currently in London for the treatment of his brother and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, proposed the names of former bureaucrat Nasir Mehmood Khosa, former ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani and retired grade-22 officer Akhlaq Ahmed Tarar for the post of the CEC.

“Article 213 (2A) of the Constitution required that ‘the prime minister shall in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly forward three names for appointment of a commission to a parliamentary committee for hearing and confirmation of anyone…’, Shehbaz wrote explaining the process for the appointment of the CEC.

“In my opinion, the consultative process required under the above provision should have been initiated by you [PM Imran] much earlier,” he complained.

“However, in an attempt to avoid possible discontinuity in the functioning of the ECP which is a constitutional body, I am taking the initiative after a long wait with a hope to hear from you.”

The PML-N president stressed the need for a “consensus-oriented consultation in accordance with the binding judgments of the Supreme Court”.

“Unfortunately, my cogent arguments were not accepted [in my letters to you regarding the appointment of ECP members for Balochistan and Sindh] and no such consensus-oriented consultation took place in the case of the appointment of the two members, resulting in [a] deadlock in the parliamentary committee,” Shehbaz told PM Imran in the letter.

He added that the government and the opposition must endeavour to avoid any such impasse by making, “serious, sincere and genuine effort to evolve a consensus by [a] mutual discussion of the merits and demerits of the concerned candidate”.

In a separate letter written to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, Shehbaz recommended Shah Mehmood Jatoi, Muhammad Rauf Atta and Rahila Durrani for the position of the ECP member from Balochistan. For the post of the ECP member from Sindh, he proposed the names of Nisar Durrani, Justice (retd) Abdul Rasul Memon and Aurangzeb Haq. The PML-N president made the recommendations in response to a letter written to him by Qaiser and Sanjrani on November 5.

PM Imran, in his letter to the National Assembly speaker and the Senate chairman, proposed the names of Dr Faiz M Kakar, Mir Naveed Jan Baloch and Amanullah Baloch from Balochistan. He recommended Justice (retd) Sadiq Bhatti, Justice (retd) Noorul Haq Qureshi and Abdul Jabbar Qureshi for appointment as the ECP member from Sindh.

The incumbent CEC, Justice (retd) Sardar Muhammad Raza, has already warned the government that the ECP would become ineffective from December 7 if his replacement was not appointed before his retirement on December 6.

He wrote a letter to the parliamentary affairs secretary in which he pointed out that two members of the commission, one each from Sindh and Balochistan, were yet to be appointed.

He informed the government that with the absence of the CEC and two members, the ECP would not be able to make any decisions.

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob will also retire in December. If the appointments are not made in time, not only will the local bodies elections be affected but the PTI foreign funding case and other matters will be put off as well.

In August, the parliamentary affairs ministry had notified the appointment of Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui and Munir Ahmed Kakar as ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan respectively after President Arif Alvi’s approval.

The appointments came seven months after Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and Justice (retd) Shakeel Baloch — the ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan — retired in January this year. Under the law, their successors should have been appointed within 45 days of their retirement.

The matter was hit by delay as the prime minister and opposition leader in the National Assembly did not consult each other for reaching a consensus on the new members.

The parliamentary committee formed to appoint the members also failed to reach an agreement.

However, the CEC refused to administer oath to the two new members notified by the government, maintaining that the appointments were made in violation of the Constitution.

In his letter to the ministry, the CEC wrote that the new members were not appointed in accordance with Articles 213 and 214 of the Constitution.

Earlier this month, the Islamabad High Court suspended the presidential notification of the appointment of two election commission members till December 5 on a petition filed by lawyer Jahangir Khan Jadoon.

The ECP contended that the CEC had refused to administer the oath to Siddiqui and Kakar because the president had appointed them without adopting the procedure laid down in clauses 2A and 2B of the Article 213 of the Constitution.

“Under Clause 2A, the prime minister shall in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly forward three names for appointment to a parliamentary committee for hearing and confirmation. Clause 2B explains the composition of the parliamentary committee. The president not only violated these clauses but also bypassed the parliamentary committee while making these appointments,” it stated in written response.

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IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed that elected representatives should make such decision themselves.

On August 27, Jadoon challenged the appointment of ECP’s Sindh and Balochistan members in the IHC and requested it to stop implementation of notification issued by the ministry.

Two lawmakers, Mohammad Javed Abbasi and Dr Nisar Cheema who are members of the parliamentary committee that recommends the names of ECP members, also challenged the appointments.

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