The government unveiled its nominees for caretaker prime minister on Thursday, just two days before the National Assembly is set to dissolve, paving way for an interim set-up to oversee the upcoming general elections.
The anxiously awaited list of nominees proposed by Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in a letter to Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan includes former finance minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan Dr Ishrat Husain. The third nominee is Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khosa, who hails from Balochistan.
Constitutionally, an interim prime minister has to be chosen by the leader of the house (Prime Minister Ashraf) and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly (Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan) with consensus.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and its like-minded opposition groups had earlier nominated two retired judges – Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan – along with politician Rasool Bux Palijo for the office. Palijo is a Sindhi nationalist, who leads his own political party, Awami Tehreek.
The government had vehemently criticised the opposition’s nominees.
Letter to Opposition
In a letter dispatched to Chaudhry Nisar on Thursday, Prime Minister Ashraf said, “I have held in-depth consultations with my allies as well as within the party in keeping with the same spirit on the names proposed by you. As a result of our consultations, I propose three names for theoffice of the caretaker prime minister.”
Haji Muhammad Adeel of the Awami National Party (ANP) told The Express Tribune that President Asif Ali Zardari has held a meeting with ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan last week for consultation over the nominees.
The premier further stated in the letter that the three nominees are persons of known standing, integrity and competence.
“We can discuss and deliberate on the names put forward both by the government and the opposition at a mutually convenient time so that we can agree on a suitable person in line with constitutional obligations,” the premier stated.
He added that he looked forward to an early response in order to “move forward to set the stage for holding general elections in the country”.
The next step
In case the prime minister and the opposition leader do not agree on any person as caretaker prime minister within three days of the dissolution of the National Assembly, they will forward two nominees each to a parliamentary committee.
The committee, which will immediately be constituted by the NA speaker, will comprise eight members of the outgoing National Assembly, or the Senate, or both, with equal representation from the treasury and the opposition, to be nominated by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition respectively, according to article 224A of the Constitution.
The committee will then have to finalise the name of a caretaker prime minister within three days of being notified of the matter.
In case the committee also fails to decide on one name within three days, the names will then referred to the Election Commission of Pakistan for a final decision within two days.
In the meantime, Prime Minister Ashraf will continue to hold office till the appointment of the caretaker premier.
Senator Mushahidullah Khan, a PML-N spokesman, told The Express Tribune that his party would try to make the deliberations successful and the matter would not be referred to the parliamentary committee.
Khan said that Hafeez Shaikh was apparently the front-runner. Another member of the PML-N said that it would be a challenge for his party leaders to oppose Shaikh because he has strong recommendations from the IMF and the World Bank.
If the matter gets referred to the committee, it would not work in favour of the PML-N, the chief of which, Nawaz Sharif, is currently out of the country.
If the parliamentary committee is formed, the PML-N will, under obligation, have to include other opposition party leaders in the committee. In this regard, Fazlur Rehman’s party, the JUI-F, will be in a better bargaining position over an interim prime minister with both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party. The JUI-F is the second largest opposition party after the PML-N, and thus its vote in the selection process would be crucial.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2013.