AT long last, after the Supreme Court’s recent intervention, the country looks set to get a permanent chief election commissioner.
Consultation, as required by law, between the PML-N government and the PPP-led opposition, including the PTI, has progressed smoothly, belying the careless, almost lazy, assertions of politicians since July 2013 that the CEC appointment needed a lengthy schedule and sustained dialogue on a range of issues.
To be sure, the constitutional requirement that the CEC must be “or has been, a judge of the Supreme Court or is, or has been, a judge of a high court and is qualified … to be appointed a judge of the Supreme Court” is not an ideal scenario and can be reassessed under a package of electoral reforms parliament is meant to be working on. But far worse are the consequences of not having a permanent CEC, as the country has not since July 2013 when Fakhruddin Ebrahim quit.
Without a permanent CEC, most major decisions of the Election Commission of Pakistan are put on hold and more controversial issues avoided. For example, an acting CEC who is a senior member of the Supreme Court is unlikely to make major or aggressive policy decisions on delimitation exercises, electronic voting or more forcefully implement electoral laws, given that most of the issues are likely to be appealed in the Supreme Court itself.
Though having being nudged into action by the Supreme Court, the country’s political leadership is demonstrating once again that, when pushed, it can still work together to fulfil the constitutional duties of the people’s representatives.
It is the dignity of the process that is striking: all sides have put forward their nominees and expressed their reservations about certain candidates without resorting to political mudslinging. Even the PTI has participated in consultations among the opposition in the National Assembly — and notably all other parties have acted in a mature way by welcoming the PTI contribution rather than mocking it for its inconsistent stand on resignations from parliament.
Extending from the ongoing consultations on the CEC appointment, the PML-N could use the opportunity to draw the PTI into further, parliamentary negotiations on electoral reforms and how to legitimately and legally address PTI reservations about results in specific constituencies in the May 2013 elections.
A demonstration of magnanimity by the PML-N could yet convince the PTI leadership to abandon its collision-course style of politics.
Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2014