The office of the chief election commissioner (CEC) is a key one in process of disqualifying the prime minister.
With the office being occupied by a caretaker, the appointment of a new CEC is set to become the new battleground between the government and the opposition.
The opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) has not only decided not to accept names of candidates sent by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for the slot, but has decided to not even entertain the letter itself – arguing that Gilani was, in fact, no longer the premier and hence could not propose names.
According to an official handout, Gilani on Monday, as per the constitutional process, proposed three names to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for appointment of a new CEC. The proposed names are Justice (retd) Munir A Sheikh, Justice (retd) Amir ul Mulk Mengal and Justice (retd) Zahid Qurban Alvi.
However, sources told The Express Tribune that, in return, Nisar would write a letter to Gilani saying that he was not authorized to propose names following his conviction by the Supreme Court.
In any case, the PML-N was not going to accept the three names put forward by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government given their perceived affiliation with the ruling party. However, the letter will not mention this – it will simply say Gilani is no longer the prime minister.
The subject of the Election Commission and the appointment of its members is dealt with under Article 213 of the Constitution of Pakistan. After the 20th amendment, the subject of much negotiation between the government and opposition, the prime minister and leader of opposition, after “consensus”, shall forward three names for the post of CEC to a 12-member parliamentary committee.
The committee’s composition is also drawn out. One-third of its members have to be from the Senate – but the opposition and government both have a 50-50 representation.
The current ECP
Insiders told The Express Tribune that the PML-N had closely studied the current situation of the Election Commission of Pakistan.
The man currently holding the slot of acting CEC is Justice Shakirullah Jan – a judge of the Supreme Court. According to the PML-N, the current CEC is upright and a little anti-government, while the members from Balochsitan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will also not side with the government. However, the Punjab and Sindh members are “pro-PPP.”
The current setup will lead to the immediate disqualification of Gilani as prime minister, if and when the matter reaches the ECP. If PPP manages another CEC, the process could take a long time – up to 90 days, which is the maximum time allotted to the ECP to decide on such matters.
The source said that PML-N would file a reference in the ECP soon to ask it to decide Gilani’s case directly.
Of course, the PPP has its own plans on this matter.
Sources inside PPP told The Express Tribune that Prime Minister Gilani on Sunday held a detailed meeting with retired justices such as Naseem Sikandar, Bilal Khan, Akhtar Shabbir, Adnan Khan et al, in which they discussed strategy how to prolong the disqualification case. According to sources, the nomination process for a new CEC and other options were comprehensively discussed. The premier was advised to immediately communicate the names of his three nominees.
According to this strategy, if Nisar rejects these names and even refuses to send his own three names to the committee, the premier’s nominees’ names will be considered to be automatically forwarded to the committee, claimed sources.
If the PML-N decides to boycott the committee, then one name would be approved on the basis of majority, sources contended.
On the other hand, if PML-N decides to show up at the committee, the PPP has another way out. The government will approach the JUI-F, whose member will be a part of the opposition representation on the committee, to break the deadlock in the government’s favour. The source said that, if, in the meanwhile, the detailed judgment comes in, and the ECP in its current form is moved, or moves itself, the government will argue that the process of nominating a fulltime CEC is under process – so the ECP cannot decide this case at the moment.
Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood said that, after the 20th Amendment, the word “consultation” has been altered to “consensus” – hence, if Nisar does not agree, there would be a deadlock. He said that the names of Gilani’s three proposed candidates, according to the Constitution, could not be automatically forwarded to the committee.
He added that, if a deadlock sets in, the acting CEC would continue in the post.
However, a former chief justice of the Islamabad High Court said that, if Nisar disagrees and continues to do so for a while, then the three names will be deemed forwarded to the committee.
Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad has another view altogether. While he says that a lack on consensus will lead to a deadlock, the prime minister’s legal team can still argue that the matter of a new CEC is under discussion, hence the ECP cannot decide on the matter until the process is complete.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2012.
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