Another ECP crisis looms as chief set to retire in four months

Updated August 14, 2019

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The incomplete Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) awaits a new crisis as the incumbent chief election commissioner (CEC) is set to retire in less than four months. — AFP/File
The incomplete Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) awaits a new crisis as the incumbent chief election commissioner (CEC) is set to retire in less than four months. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The incomplete Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) awaits a new crisis as the incumbent chief election commissioner (CEC) is set to retire in less than four months.

Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and retired Justice Shakeel Baloch — the ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan — retired in January this year and under the law their successors should have been appointed within 45 days of their retirement.

The last meeting of the bipartisan 12-member parliamentary committee on appointment of ECP members held over a month ago had ended in a deadlock.

Members from the government and opposition sides insisted on having ECP member from Sindh of their choice and offered to support the other side’s nominee as member from Balochistan.

Finally, voting took place that too ended in a tie.

Since the Constitution is silent in case of a deadlock in the parliamentary committee, the meeting discussed the option of inviting fresh names from the prime minister and the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, and referring the matter to the Supreme Court, but nothing could be done.

The process for appointment of CEC and members should start three months before their retirement; last meeting of parliamentary committee ended in a deadlock

Sources told Dawn that the ECP had sent a fresh communication to the ministry of parliamentary affairs inviting its attention to the constitutional requirement of filling the posts of ECP members.

When contacted, a senior ECP official said the next general elections in 2023 are to be conducted by an entirely new team. He said Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan would retire in the first week of December while the term of two sitting ECP members would expire in June 2021.

He pointed out that had the appointment of members from Sindh and Balochistan been made in a timely manner, they would have gained a lot of experience from the by-polls held across the country and the provincial assembly elections held in the erstwhile Fata.

“It needs to be seen in advance as to who will be the provincial election commissioners to conduct the next general elections and therefore the immediate appointment of the ECP members who will be part of the new team should be in place as early as possible,” he remarked.

The official said there could be complete chaos if the ECP members were not appointed before retirement of the chief election commissioner. He expressed the hope that CEC’s appointment would not be delayed as the date of his retirement was already known.

The mechanism for the retirement of two members after their half-term in office was put in place through the 22nd Amendment to ensure 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 this 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.

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 the parliamentary committee for confirmation of one name.

The parliamentary committee, constituted by the National Assembly 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.

If the prime minister and the opposition leader could not reach a consensus, the law says that each will forward separate lists to the parliamentary committee for the hearing and finalisation of names.

Since the Constitution is silent in case of a stalemate on appointment at the parliamentary committee, some proposals to amend the law had been made in the recent past.

A suggestion to refer the matter to the ECP for a decision in such a case, as provided under the law in similar situation for the appointment of caretaker prime minister and chief ministers had recently been made during a meeting of the parliamentary committee on appointment of ECP members.

A suggestion had also been made to start the process for the appointment of the CEC and ECP members three months before the date of their retirement to avoid any uncalled for gap that affects the functioning of poll supervisory body.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2019