ISLAMABAD, July 1: The positive response from the PML-N to the offer made by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for talks on appointing the new chief election commissioner (CEC) is not without reservations.
PPP sources said the offer was “outside the formal consultations” and that party’s chief whip Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah was pursuing the PML-N to add two names to the three it had already given for the new CEC to broaden the choice for the parliamentary committee to reach a consensus.
“The past trust deficit” was the simple response of PML-N’s deputy secretary general Ahsan Iqbal when contacted to ascertain the reasons behind accepting the PPP’s renewed offer for talks with some reservations. “We need solid guarantees and interlocutors that the government would implement the agreement reached (between them),” he said.
Asked who would act as “interlocutors” and what kind of guarantees the PML-N wanted, Mr Iqbal said interlocutors could be representatives of civil society organisations or lawyers’ bodies or anyone “acceptable to both sides”. He said the opposition had a bitter experience about government’s assurances and commitments and, therefore, it wanted that there should be other forces who could take the rulers to task if they tried to backtrack from the agreement.
Mr Iqbal also said that besides discussing the issues of the new CEC and the caretaker set-up, the PML-N also wanted an assurance from the government that it would announce early general elections. “If the government wants to ensure credibility of democratic process it must take substantive and tangible steps towards early general elections in 2012, appointment of a consensus CEC and caretaker set-up with solid guarantees,” he said. “The PML-N will reciprocate if the PPP does so.” However, he warned that if the PPP remained adamant and prolonged the present situation “there can be a serious crisis in the country and the PPP alone will be responsible for it”.
In response to a question, he said it was up to the government to decide how to take the civil society and other stakeholders on board. As far as the PML-N was concerned, he said, the party had started contacting other opposition parties inside and outside parliament for evolving a united stand on the critical issues and forcing the government to go for early elections.
The senior PML-N member also indicated that his party was not ready to show any flexibility and would stick to the names it had already proposed to the parliamentary committee headed by PPP’s Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah for the CEC.
Mr Iqbal said he was not aware about the PPP asking the opposition to give more names to the committee to broaden the choice.
A senior PPP leader, when contacted, admitted that there had been a deadlock between the two parties over the issue of the CEC, but at the same time expressed the hope that the PPP would succeed in developing consensus on the name of the CEC during “informal consultations”.
The deadlock was created when Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan rejected all the three names proposed by former prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani for the CEC and later refused to hold any consultation with Mr Gilani saying that the PML-N would not hold talks with a convicted person.
But later the PML-N suggested to the parliamentary committee the names of present acting CEC Justice Shakirullah Jan, Justice (retd) Fakharuddin G. Ebrahim and Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid as its nominees for the office of the CEC.
On the other hand, former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had proposed the names of Justice (retd) Munir A. Sheikh, Justice (retd) Amirul Mulk Mengal and Justice (retd) Zahid Qurban Alvi.
The PML-N received a boost when one of the government’s coalition partner Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) supported the name of Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid proposed by the opposition.
When contacted, MQM’s spokesman Wasay Jalil said: “Yes, we consider Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid as the best choice for the office of the CEC.” But he said that supporting an opposition nominee did not mean that the MQM had rejected PPP’s candidates.
The PPP is also in a fix as the new CEC can be appointed only through a two-thirds majority of the committee members, under the rules that were framed by the committee soon after its formation last year. Since there are six members each from both sides, the committee is required to approve the appointment of the CEC with at least eight votes. Therefore, even if the PPP manages to get the support of the JUI-F, it will not be able to get the CEC of its choice appointed since the remaining five members belong to the PML-N and all of them are considered to be the hardcore leaders and staunch party loyalists.
Under the 18th Amendment, the tenure of the CEC has been increased to five years from three and the procedure for his appointment has also been changed. The CEC was earlier appointed by the president, but under Article 213 of the Constitution, the prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader in the National Assembly is required to forward three names to a parliamentary committee for confirmation of one of them.
If there is no agreement between the prime minister and the opposition leader on three names, then under Clause 2B of Article 213, both of them are required to forward separate lists to a bipartisan parliamentary committee which has equal representation of the government and the opposition – which will be empowered to confirm one name.