Despite failing to select an interim prime minister themselves, politicians jockeyed for support within the Election Commission of Pakistan on Saturday in a bid to convince it to prefer their candidates over their rivals.
This lobbying effort, combined with lack of constitutional guidelines and absence of a key commission member, cast a cloud on the opening day of the ECP’s deliberations on who will head the caretaker administration.
On Saturday, two missives were sent out to the ECP by representatives of the ruling alliance. Both letters — one of them penned by National Assembly Speaker Fahmida Mirza and the other by the four government representatives on the eight-member parliamentary committee – made clear what the preferences of the government were. While the first letter picked out the favourite, the second conveyed reservations over the names proposed by the opposition for the caretaker PM’s slot. ECP secretary Ishtiak Khan confirmed that he had received a letter from Pakistan Peoples Party leader Khursheed Shah regarding the outgoing government’s reservations against the opposition’s nominees for interim PM.
The opposition has nominated Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Rasool Bux Palijo, which the government had proposed the names of Dr Ishrat Hussain and Justice (ret’d) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso.
Meanwhile, local PML-N leader Tariq Fazal Chaudhry also met ECP officials to convey his party’s reservations to the commission. A source in the ECP told The Express Tribune that Chaudhry had been asked to submit his party’s reservations against the government’s nominees in writing.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz spokesperson Ahsan Iqbal said the PPP had ‘transgressed its limits’ by writing the letters to the ECP and made the process controversial. He termed the move an effort to pressurise the commission.
But politicians attempting to influence the ECP’s decision was not the only reason behind its failure to choose a caretaker PM on Saturday. In the absence of a procedure clearly defined by the Constitution, the commission failed to make headway as it concluded the first round of deliberations.
Since it is the first time in the country’s history that the election commission has been tasked with selecting an interim premier, the ECP lacks any guideline on how to resolve the matter, an official of the commission commented.
For instance, the ECP does not know how or even if it should respond to the letters it received from PPP leaders, or whether it is constitutionally permitted for the political parties to apprise the commission of their opinion on the nominees, he added.
While Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ebrahim had expressed optimism regarding the likelihood of a decision by the end of the first meeting earlier in the day, ECP’s problems were further compounded by the absence of one of its members from the meeting.
Justice Roshan Essani, ECP’s member from Sindh, could not attend the meeting on Saturday, pushing the decision to the next day (today).
“With one of its five members absent, how can the commission make a decision in case of a tie?” asked the ECP official.
The commission has now decided to include any member who cannot reach Islamabad in its deliberations through a video link.
Meanwhile, ECP officials provided contradictory explanations about the absence of Justice Essani. Elections director general Sher Afgan maintained the Sindh member could not attend the meeting due to a domestic problem. According to the ECP secretary, however, Justice Essani could not reach Islamabad since he had been busy working on the Karachi delimitation assignment till late Friday night.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2013.