Govt defends unilateral selection of ECP members

Updated August 25, 2019

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Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Khan Swati through a video message expressed his surprise over the refusal of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza to administer the oath of office to the newly appointed ECP members. — DawnNewsTV/File
Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Khan Swati through a video message expressed his surprise over the refusal of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza to administer the oath of office to the newly appointed ECP members. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to defend its decision of unilaterally nominating two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the government on Saturday claimed that President Dr Arif Alvi had made the appointments in line with the Constitution and on the recommendations of the institutions concerned.

Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Khan Swati through a video message expressed his surprise over the refusal of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza to administer the oath of office to the newly appointed ECP members.

However, the CEC’s decision was hailed by the opposition parties which termed the government’s move ‘unconstitutional’. A National Party (NP) leader even called for the trial of President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan under Article 6 of the Constitution.

The CEC had refused to administer the oath of office to the ECP members on Friday, saying their appointment was against the Constitution. The two members, who were appointed by President Alvi on Aug 22, arrived at the ECP headquarters to formally assume charge, but returned dismayed.

The CEC’s refusal to administer the oath of office to the government-appointed members had been termed “unconstitutional” by Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem, who argued that the CEC had no authority to examine validity of government notifications.

President Alvi had notified the appointment of Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui and Munir Ahmad Kakar as ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan, respectively, after months-long deadlock between the government and the opposition over the issue.

The CEC in a letter sent to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs observed that the ECP members’ appointment was not in accordance with the relevant articles of the Constitution. The CEC had cited a judgement rendered by a five-member bench of the Supreme Court in 2013, holding that the president did not enjoy discretionary power in appointment of the CEC and ECP members. He made it clear that he would not administer oath to the ‘unconstitutionally’ appointed members.

The parliamentary affairs minister said President Alvi had appointed the two ECP members in a “just and fair” manner and as an “impartial umpire” after failure of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif to reach a consensus on the names. He said even the parliamentary committee on the appointment of the CEC and the ECP members had failed to break the deadlock.

Mr Swati claimed that his ministry had informed National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser about the deadlock and also sought opinion from the law ministry before forwarding a report to the president with recommendations in the light of which the president made the decision.

The minister said there was no precedent under which the government could refer the matter to the chief justice of Pakistan for a final decision under Article 186 of the Constitution.

Mr Swati said the government could not leave any institution “dysfunctional” under Article 215 of the Constitution. He said the ECP had been incomplete at a time when the local government elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were about to be held.

The minister said he had received a letter from the CEC over the issue and said there had been no such precedent that such a letter had been written by the CEC.

Mr Swati, however, did not elaborate the future course of action and concluded his message with the statement that they would make a “decision” keeping in view the background and to “strengthen the ECP”.

Meanwhile, NP’s Punjab chapter president Ayub Malik alleged that the president and the prime minister had violated the Constitution and, therefore, they should be tried for “sedition” under Article 6 of the Constitution.

The two major opposition parties – Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – welcomed the CEC’s decision not to administer the oath office to the two ECP members, saying that the ECP had set an example by rejecting the unconstitutional move of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government.

PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said the procedure for ECP members’ appointment had clearly been defined in the Constitution and the government had violated the document. She said the government had bypassed the opposition leader and the parliamentary committee on appointment of the ECP members. She said the ECP had upheld the Constitution’s supremacy by the decision.

Spokesperson for the PML-N Marriyum Aurangzeb regretted that the parliamentary committee on appointment of the ECP members had been ignored and a one-sided decision had been taken.

She demanded that the government reverse its ‘unconstitutional’ decision.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2019