ISLAMABAD: Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahbaz Sharif has opposed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s act of “consulting” with him on the appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) through nominees and termed delay in filling the two vacancies a violation of the Constitution.

Interestingly, Mr Sharif has conveyed his reservations over the delay in the appointment of the ECP members due to reluctance of the prime minister to hold direct consultation with him through a letter sent by his director Muhib Ali Phulpoto to Mr Khan’s secretary Muhammad Azam Khan.

The opposition leader has also termed the letter sent to him by the prime minister through one of his secretaries on Wednesday suggesting three nominations each for the vacant posts of ECP members from Balochistan and Sindh against the intent and spirit of the Constitution.

Foreign minister discusses with prime minister the appointment of ECP members and the planned briefing to political parties on the implementation of National Action Plan

When asked why Mr Sharif was not communicating directly with the prime minister, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said that under the Constitution and in line with a 2011 decision of the Supreme Court, it was the responsibility of prime minister to initiate the process of consultation with the opposition leader on the appointment of the chief election commissioner or any member of the ECP.

Ms Aurangzeb alleged that the prime minister had an ego problem which was evident from the fact that he did not even attend a briefing last month on the security situation that was held in the aftermath of the Pulwama incident and which was attended by Mr Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari.

She said the opposition leaders had attended the briefing as it was a matter of national security, but the prime minister “kept his egoism high” even on that crucial occasion.

“Reconsidering” his strategy, the prime minister on Wednesday began “consultation” with the opposition leader by suggesting to him through a letter three nominations each for the vacant posts of the ECP members from Balochistan and Sindh as the deadline set by the Constitution for this purpose has already been missed.

The letter written by the prime minister’s secretary to Mr Sharif had revealed that the government had withdrawn the previous nominations that had been sent to the opposition leader through the office of the foreign minister and new names had been suggested for the two vacant constitutional posts.

The government has suggested the names of Amanullah Baloch, ex-district and sessions judge, Quetta; Munir Kakar, a lawyer; and Mir Naveed Jan Baloch, a businessman and a former caretaker minister in the provincial government, for their nomination as a member of the ECP from the province.

For Sindh, the prime minister has proposed the names of Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui, a lawyer; retired Justice Farrukh Zia Sheikh, a former judge of the Sindh High Court; and Iqbal Mehmood, retired inspector-general of Sindh, for their nomination as a member of the ECP.

The move from the prime minister came after criticism from the opposition as well as from legal circles over the refusal of the prime minister to hold direct mandatory consultation with the opposition leader as required under the Constitution.

The government had to face more criticism when Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi sent the nominations and that too, through an additional secretary working in his office.

The PML-N had expressed its surprise over the government’s act of involving foreign ministry in the issue of the appointment of the ECP members only due to the prime minister’s reluctance to hold consultations with Mr Sharif.

“I am directed to inform you that the letter of the Foreign Minister’s Office was in violation of the relevant articles of the Constitution and likewise your letter does not adhere to the intent and spirit of the Constitution,” said the letter written by Mr Sharif’s director to the PM’s secretary.

The letter also drew the attention of the prime minister to a 2011 judgement of the Supreme Court, “which clearly stipulates the parameters for scope and interpretation of the word ‘consultation’ for guidance on the subject issue”.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister called on the prime minister on Thursday to discuss the appointment of the ECP members and the planned briefing to the political parties on the issue of implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.

The government had planned a briefing for the parliamentary leaders on NAP with particular reference to the grant of extension to military courts, but it had to cancel it following the opposition’s decision to boycott it. The opposition demands that the briefing be given on the floor of parliament.

Mr Qureshi has already declared that the government is ready to give the briefing on the floor of parliament.

The Constitution states that if the PM and the opposition leader do not reach consensus on the names of the ECP members, each will forward a separate list to the parliamentary committee to finalise names.

ECP members Abdul Ghaffar Soomro from Sindh and retired justice Shakeel Baloch from Balochistan had retired on Jan 26 and their replacements under the Constitution should have been appointed by March 12, the constitutional deadline that has been missed.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2019