Govt misses constitutional deadline on appointment of ECP members

Updated March 12, 2019

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Consultation between PM Imran Khan and opposition leader in the matter not in sight either. — DawnNewsTV/File
Consultation between PM Imran Khan and opposition leader in the matter not in sight either. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: The government has missed the constitutional deadline of 45 days for the appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the mandatory process for consultation between the prime minister and the opposition leader in this regard is in fact yet to start.

Article 215 (4) inserted in the Constitution through the 22nd Amendment reads: “Vacancy in the office of the commissioner or a member shall be filled within 45 days.”

The ECP has been incomplete for six weeks after its members from Sindh and Balochistan retired on Jan 26.

A senior official of the ECP told Dawn that the commission had a long list of activities for the coming months, including local government elections in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and cantonments, warranting the immediate appointment of two members.

“The fact that the process of consultation between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly to fill the two vacancies has not yet started is a cause of alarm for the ECP,” he remarked.

Consultation between PM and opposition leader in the matter not in sight either

Under the Constitution, the ECP comprises a chief election commissioner and four members — one from each province.

The mechanism for the retirement of two members after their half-term in office was put in place through the 22nd Amendment to ensure the continuity of the electoral body. Article 215 of the Constitution in its amended form reads: “The Commissioner [and a member] shall, subject to this Article, hold office for a term of five years from the day he enters upon his office.”

A proviso to the article reads: “Provided that two of the members shall retire after the expiration of the first two and a half years and two shall retire after the expiration of the next two and a half years: Provided further that the Commission shall for the first term of office of members draw a lot as to which two members shall retire after the first two and a half years.”

However, under the amended law, it was a one-time arrangement meaning that in future all members will complete their five-year tenure.

National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had constituted a bipartisan parliamentary committee on the appointment of CEC and ECP members even before the retirement of the two members. The 12-member committee had also elected Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari as its chairperson, but the parliamentary panel can act only after it receives either consensus or separate lists from the prime minister and opposition leader.

Under Articles 213 and 218 of the Constitution, the prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader forwards three names for the appointment of a CEC or commission member to a parliamentary committee for confirmation of one name.

The parliamentary committee, constituted by the NA speaker, draws half its members from treasury benches and half from opposition parties, based on their strength in parliament, to be nominated by their respective parliamentary leaders.

In case a consensus cannot be reached between the prime minister and the opposition leader, the law says that each will forward separate lists to the parliamentary committee for the hearing and finalisation of names.

There are no signs of commencement of the consultative process any soon. Even if it happens after an inordinate delay, the prime minister and opposition leader are not expected to directly talk to each other to decide the nominations owing to the tense relationship between the two. In all probability, the two will hold indirect consultations through close aides.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary panel on appointment of ECP members will be meeting on Tuesday (today). Chairperson of the committee Dr Shireen Mazari was not available to explain the purpose of convening the meeting.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2019