ISLAMABAD: Due to their other engagements, the prime minister and the leader of opposition in the National Assembly are not likely to meet to finalise the appointment of chief election commissioner (CEC) and may have to rely on a telephonic conversation to discuss the issue.
According to sources in the government and the opposition, no meeting is possible between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah by Nov 24, the third deadline set by the Supreme Court to appoint the CEC as the latter plans to return to the country from abroad on Nov 26 and the prime minister will leave for Kathmandu, Nepal, on Nov 25 to attend Saarc summit.
Earlier, the SC had set Oct 28 and Nov 13 deadlines for the CEC appointment, threatening to withdraw acting CEC Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, a serving judge of the apex court.
When contacted, a spokesman for the opposition leader said Mr Shah would be back in the country from the UK two days after the expiry of the deadline to fill the post, which had remained vacant for over 16 months.
But the spokesman said that Mr Shah had been in contact with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on telephone and they had held a discussion on the issue.
When contacted, Mr Dar only said that the matter was now being handled by the prime minister office, indicating that he had completed his task of consultation and the final announcement was expected to be made after a telephonic contact between the prime minister and the opposition leader in a day or two.
The issue, the sources said, had been discussed at a meeting presided over by the prime minister and attended by some senior members of the federal cabinet. There was a consensus among the participants that the government should not seek more time from the SC and that the CEC should be appointed before the Nov 24 deadline.
If no new names are suggested by any side, former judge of the Supreme Court, retired Justice Tariq Pervez Khan, is the only candidate left for the post after an elimination process which knocked off five other names for different reasons.
The sources in the government and the opposition said though the constitution allowed the prime minister and the opposition leader to send six names for the CEC office to a parliamentary committee, the two leaders were trying to come up with just one consensus name due to paucity of time.
The issue of the CEC appointment had suffered a blow when former chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani and retired Justice Rana Bhagwandas, the two persons on whose names the government and the opposition had almost reached an agreement, refused to accept the post.
Earlier, the opposition leader had rejected the government’s nominee retired Justice Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui and the prime minister had refused to accept the opposition’s nominee retired Justice Mian Ajmal.
Rejecting all the names discussed by Mr Sharif and Mr Shah at a meeting earlier this month, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had proposed the name of retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid. But the opposition PPP showed reluctance to consider the PTI’s nominee.
The office of the CEC fell vacant when retired Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim voluntary resigned in July last year amid allegations of rigging and irregularities in the general elections by almost all political parties.
Mr Ebrahim was the first person to be appointed the CEC after the passage of the 18th Amendment under which the tenure of the office has been increased to five years from three.
The CEC was earlier appointed by the president but now under Article 213 of the Constitution, the prime minister in consultation with the leader of opposition in the National Assembly is required to forward three names to the parliamentary committee for confirmation of one of them.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2014