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ISLAMABAD: Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah has declared in categorical terms that there will be no further talks with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the caretaker set-up and that a decision about the caretaker prime minister’s appointment is now to be made by a parliamentary committee.

Talking to reporters on Friday, Mr Shah said he would write a letter to Speaker of the National Assembly Saradar Ayaz Sadiq early next week, asking him to constitute a parliamentary committee for the appointment of a caretaker prime minister.

Holding the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (Nawaz) responsible for the deadlock, the opposition leader alleged that the government had backtracked on its promise to endorse the name proposed by the opposition. He was of the view that the prime minister had no authority to reject names proposed by the opposition. He said the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would propose the names of former Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Zaka Ashraf and former ambassador to the United States Jalil Abbass Jilani to the parliamentary committee.

On Tuesday, PM Abbasi and opposition leader Shah had failed to reach consensus on a name for the position of a caretaker premier during a meeting held at Prime Minister House.

National Assembly speaker will be asked to constitute parliamentary committee on the issue

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Shah had said he would hold another meeting with the prime minister either on Wednesday or Thursday to finalise the name for caretaker premier. He had said that he and the prime minister had both agreed to take some time on the matter. “It would be good for parliament if this matter can be agreed upon in [the upcoming] meeting,” he added.

However, the next meeting never took place, with Mr Shah being disappointed in the government backing out of the promise to endorse the name given by the opposition.

The government has suggested the names of former chief justice of Pakistan retired Justice Nasirul Mulk, retired Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani — also a former chief justice — and former State Bank governor Dr Shamshad Akhtar.

The National Assembly will be completing its five-year term on May 31. The law requires the prime minister and the opposition leader to pick, with consensus, one person from six nominees, three each from the government and the opposition, as caretaker PM within three days of the dissolution of the assembly.

If the two leaders are unable to reach consensus within the stipulated time, they will forward names of two nominees each to a committee that will be immediately constituted by the speaker of the National Assembly. This committee will comprise eight members of the outgoing National Assembly, or the Senate, or both, with equal representation from the treasury and opposition, to be nominated by the prime minister and the opposition leader, respectively.

The committee is required to finalise the name of caretaker PM within three days of the referral of the matter to it.

If the committee also fails to agree on one name within the given time — as happened before the 2013 polls — the names of the nominees will be referred to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for a final decision within two days. The ECP committee to be constituted for this purpose will comprise the chief election commissioner and four members of the commission.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has proposed the names of former chief justice Jilani, former federal minister Abdul Razzaq Daud and former State Bank governor Dr Ishrat Hussain. Many believe that if the matter goes to the parliamentary committee, where the PTI will possibly have one representative, there will be bright chances of retired Justice Jilani to be picked up as his name is common among the speculated list of the PML-N and the officially announced list of the PTI.

The PPP has taken a position that it is opposed to the idea of appointment of a former judge as caretaker prime minister. The opposition leader is also aware of the scenario, and may not include the PTI in the list of four members of the parliamentary committee from the opposition side to be given to the speaker.

In case, all four members from the PPP are nominated for representation in the committee, the situation will be back to square one and the matter will have to be referred to the ECP.

A legal expert said Article 224 of the Constitution was silent on how members from the opposition were to be picked, meaning that it was the sole discretion of the opposition leader to nominate members of his choice.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2018