26 July, 2014 / Ramazan 27, 1435

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE, June 29: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has approached the PML-N leadership for consultation on the appointment of new chief election commissioner.

“I invite the opposition for consultation on the appointment of the chief election commissioner which is essential for free, fair and transparent elections,” the prime minister said during a meeting with members of the PPP Punjab’s executives committee at the Governor’s House in Lahore on Friday.

“Yes, we have been contacted by the prime minister on the issue of CEC’s appointment. The party leadership welcomes the move and is open to discussion,” an office-bearer of the PML-N said.

An informed source told Dawn that the prime minister wanted a consensus candidate for the office of CEC, instead of making it an issue between the PPP and PML-N.

The two parties squabbled when they met last month to decide on a name to fill the post of CEC who would organise and oversee the 2013 elections, he said, adding that the prime minister intended to avoid a confrontation over the issue.

“We are hopping for a positive response from the opposition party and believe that the new CEC will have the support of all political parties,” said the source who is involved in exchange of messages.

In his first speech after his election as prime minister on June 22, Mr Ashraf said conducting free and fair elections was one of his main objectives.

The office of CEC fell vacant after the retirement of Justice (retd) Hamid Ali Mirza on March 23 this year. It is being looked after by the acting CEC.

Under the 20th Amendment, the post has to be filled after consultation between the prime minister and the leader of opposition in the National Assembly. But the process got delayed after the Supreme Court convicted former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of contempt, and subsequently the PML-N refused to recognise him as lawful holder of the office.

A 12-member parliamentary committee, headed by Khursheed Ahmad Shah of the PPP, is currently considering six names – three each nominated by the PPP and the PML-N – for the post of CEC.

The PML-N nominees include Acting CEC Justice Shakirullah Jan, Justice (retd) Ghulam Rabbani and Justice (retd) Sardar Raza Khan. The PPP has proposed the names of Justice (retd) Munir A. Sheikh, Justice (retd) Amirul Mulk Mengal and Justice (retd) Qurban Alvi.

The 18th Amendment has increased the tenure of CEC to five years from three and changed the procedure for appointment. The CEC was earlier appointed by the president, but under Article 213 of the Constitution the prime minister in consultation with the leader of opposition in the National Assembly will forward three names to the parliamentary committee for confirmation of one of them.

If there is no agreement on the three names between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, both sides will forward separate lists to the parliamentary committee which will be empowered to confirm one name.

In the event of the committee failing to agree on one name, the matter will be decided by voting.

“Thus only way forward is an agreement between the PPP and PML-N,” said an official of the National Assembly’s branch dealing with legislative affairs.

No clash with judiciary

Prime Minister Ashraf said there should be no clash between institutions. “The PPP does not want a clash with any institution, including the judiciary. If all institutions work under their constitutional ambit, there will be no clash. Pulling each other’s leg will not benefit anyone,” he said, adding that if the democratic process was derailed all parties would be losers.

Mr Ashraf said the energy crisis was the most serious issue and it was his government’s top priority to overcome it. “With our measures, loadshedding will be reduced over time.”

The prime minister praised the gesture of the Punjab government to receive him at the airport. “We believe in politics of reconciliation. The politics of confrontation will neither benefit the government nor the opposition. Under the Charter of Democracy, the opposition is not supposed to weaken democracy,” he said, adding that Punjab was as important for him as other provinces.

The prime minister said the PPP, along with its coalition partners, would ensure the supremacy of parliament. “There cannot be any compromise on the supremacy of parliament.”

He said the PPP would go into the next elections with its performance and would form the next government. Mr Ashraf asked members of the executives committee to start preparing for the general election which would be held on time.

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