ISLAMABAD, July 31: The controversy generated by advancing the schedule of the presidential election worsened on Wednesday as Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim resigned from his post after heading the prime electoral body for a little over a year.
It is for the first time in the country’s history that a CEC has quit the high-profile position. The resignation came three weeks before by-elections in 42 constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies.
Sources privy to the development told Dawn that the main reason for the resignation by Justice Ebrahim enjoying the reputation of being a man of principles was encroachment by the Supreme Court in the exclusive domain of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and failure of his fellow members to effectively act to protect the commission’s independence.
According to a source, Fakhru Bhai was displeased by the court’s decision to change the presidential poll schedule on a petition of a PML-N legislator without hearing other parties.
Justice Ebrahim had decided to set aside the court’s order and wrote a note hoping that it would be endorsed by other members of the commission on the day he scrutinised the nomination papers, but failed to muster support.
“That was the time he decided to resign soon after the presidential election,” the source said, adding that the CEC was not ready to work with members who he believed were responsible for losing independence of the commission.
Justice Ebrahim, however, chose not to mention the reason in his resignation sent to the president. He stated that he had been appointed through a consultative process by the last parliament and his constitutional term would end in 2017. “However, in my humble opinion, the newly elected members of the parliament should have the opportunity to forge new consensus and choose a new Chief Election Commissioner,” he wrote.
He observed that this would also give the next CEC sufficient time and opportunity to prepare and lead the Election Commission for the general elections in 2018. “Therefore, in accordance with Article 215 (3) of the constitution, I hereby resign from the office of the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan,” he said.
He recalled that he had taken oath as CEC on July 23 last year, approximately nine months prior to the general elections. “I did not seek this high office, but in fact accepted the same with reluctance, upon persuasion from senior members of the parliament that I was the only person on whom the members of the opposition and the government could both agree upon.”
He said that now the transition from one elected civilian government to another had been completed for the first time in the country’s history. It is belated and has come with much sacrifice.
Too many have fallen at the hands of terrorists. Political workers, teachers, lawyers, journalists, personnel of police and armed forces, government servants and ordinary men and women have all paid a heavy price. Even children have not been spared. Six-year-old Aimal Khan was killed, along with his father, an election candidate, when they came out of a mosque after Friday prayers.
“These are the true heroes of our democratic struggle,” Justice Ebrahim said.
He said that in the performance of professional duty he had done his utmost to hold true to democratic values, the dictates of his conscience and the commands of the constitution. “I am proud that the Election Commission has acted without fear or favour and strived to create as level a playing field as possible. Despite personal threats and even brazen gun attack on my family, I quietly stood firm against those forces who first tried to derail and then delay the 2013 elections,” he said.
On the acceptance of Justice Ebrahim’s resignation, the chief justice will appoint from among the sitting judges of the apex court as acting Chief Election Commissioner who will hold the office till the appointment of a new CEC by a parliamentary committee.
The Supreme Court’s decision to advance the schedule for presidential election from Aug 6 to July 30 had triggered a volley of criticism against the judiciary as well as the Election Commission in and outside parliament.
The opposition, surprised by what it called a ‘hasty decision’ and a weak stand taken by the ECP representative in the court, had also sought resignation of the CEC and members of the commission for losing independence of the ECP.
Ironically, the ECP did not file a review petition under Article 188 of the constitution against the verdict.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Ahmed Shah of the PPP welcomed the resignation by Justice Ebrahim and said other members of the ECP should also follow suit.