ISLAMABAD: The multiparty conference of opposition parties convened by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) on Tuesday (tomorrow) to finalise a charter of demands and a strategy to intensify anti-government protests will also deliberate on nominations for the Chief Election Commis­sioner (CEC) and members of Election Commission from Sindh and Balochistan.

This was disclosed by a member of the opposition’s Rehbar committee and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) secretary general Ahsan Iqbal on Sunday.

Mr Iqbal told Dawn that Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and his party president Shahbaz Sharif, who was currently with his ailing brother Nawaz Sharif in London, had authorised them to finalise nominees for the CEC office and the two ECP members after consultation with other opposition parties.

He said they would discuss the matter in the upcoming multiparty conference and would try to finalise the list that would then be sent to Mr Shahbaz in London. As under the Constitution, only the opposition leader and the prime minister were required to do consultations on the matter, Mr Shahbaz would then forward the list of the opposition’s nominees to Prime Minister Imran Khan, he added.

He said the opposition leader had received a joint letter from Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and NA Speaker Asad Qaiser who asked him to propose three names each for the positions of ECP member from Sindh and Balochistan as per Islamabad High Court (IHC) decision. The IHC had recently directed the government and the opposition to resolve the matter by Dec 7 when the incumbent CEC retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza would complete his tenure.

When asked, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had decided to attend the MPC for which he was expected to arrive in Islamabad on Monday (today).

While Mr Khokhar, who is the official spokesman for the PPP chairman expressed his ignorance about the agenda of the MPC, Rehbar Committee member and PPP secretary general Nayyar Bokhari explained that the committee had decided on Nov 19 that the opposition parties would discuss names of the ECP members and the new CEC in the next meeting.

In a related development, the PML-N president on Sunday nominated former NA speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, party’s secretary general Ahsan Iqbal, leader Amir Muqam and party’s chairman Raja Zafarul Haq for participation in the MPC.

While the government and the opposition have failed to solve controversy over ECP members’ nomination since January, the issue has acquired a greater political significance after the ECP finally decided last week to hold hearing of the five-year-old foreign funding case against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on a daily basis.

The PTI has questioned the “haste” in hearing of the case, whereas the opposition parties have blamed the government for “intentionally delaying” appointment of new ECP members, alleging that the government is waiting for CEC’s retirement in order to make ECP dysfunctional.

Fresh names for the appointment of ECP members had been sought from Prime Minister Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif through a letter by the Senate chairman and the NA speaker last week.

After receiving the names from both sides, the same will be sent to the parliamentary committee on appointment of ECP members. The move came only weeks before the retirement of CEC retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza.

The positions of ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan fell vacant in January after the retirement of Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and retired Justice Shakeel Baloch.

Under the law, the positions were required to be filled within 45 days, but the legal deadline passed without even the initiation of consultation between PM Imran Khan and Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif. Even after belated commencement of an indirect consultation process, a controversy erupted when a letter proposing names from the government side came from the Foreign Office instead of PM House.

Days later the PM reconsidered the decision, withdrew the previous nominations and proposed three names each for the two positions to the opposition leader afresh.

The 12 names thus received from the government and the opposition were sent to the parliamentary committee on appointment of ECP members, where both sides having equal representation tried their hard to have a member from Sindh of their choice and offered each other to have a member from Balochistan as they like.

But the committee could not reach a decision, leaving many to wonder what next if the Constitution is silent in case of such a stalemate.

Interestingly, President Dr Arif Alvi appointed both nominees from the ruling PTI’s list as ECP members on Aug 22. But the crisis deepened over the move when next day Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui and Munir Ahmad Kakar, appointed as members from Sindh and Balochistan, respectively, went to the ECP to assume the charge and the CEC refused to administer the oath of office to them, making it clear that their appointment was unconstitutional.

Arguing that the CEC had no authority to examine “validity” of government notifications, Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim described his refusal to administer oath to the ‘unconstitutionally’ appointed members unconstitutional.

The two ECP members’ appointment was later challenged in the IHC by two members of the parliamentary committee belonging to the PML-N.

The IHC in its order earlier this month observed that the constitutional provisions had not been followed in the appointment. The court, however, referred the matter back to the parliament while suspending the government notification of the ECP members’ appointment by the President.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2019