JAMIAT Ulema-i-Islam-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Ahsan Iqbal of the Pakistan Muslim League-N and other opposition leaders pictured at the media briefing.—White Star
JAMIAT Ulema-i-Islam-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Ahsan Iqbal of the Pakistan Muslim League-N and other opposition leaders pictured at the media briefing.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: Reiterating their call for early polls in the country, opposition parties on Tuesday constituted a three-member committee to finalise the names for the chief election commissioner (CEC) and two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The opposition parties during their multi-party conference (MPC) hosted by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) also decided to organise joint protest rallies and public meetings at the district level throughout the country as part of its ongoing anti-government campaign.

These decisions were announced by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) secretary general Ahsan Iqbal during a news conference after the MPC.

“The present incompetent rulers have put the country’s national security at stake. Holding of new, independent, fair and transparent elections as early as possible is the only solution. If this route is adopted, the country can be saved and if any other option is used, the country will head towards destruction,” declared Mr Iqbal.

In reply to a question regarding the reported backdoor contacts of Maulana Fazl with the “establishment” during the JUI-F’s 13-day sit-in in Islamabad, Mr Bhutto-Zardari categorically stated that all the opposition parties agreed that since they did not accept the present “selected prime minister”, they would not accept any selected prime minister in future as well “be it through elections or in-house change”.

Fazl takes parties into confidence about backdoor meetings

He asked the reporters to make all of those sitting on the table “accountable”, if tomorrow they become part of any such set-up.

Admitting that he had been in contact with some establishment people, the Maulana said that during the meetings they had not changed their stance and stuck to their position.

“Contacts are not important. It is the stance which matters. In every meeting, we stuck to our stance. Why are you creating confusion?” the Maulana said while abruptly concluding the news conference.

Sources told Dawn that during the MPC, the opposition members, particularly those belonging to the PPP, asked the Maulana to brief them about his backdoor meetings during the recent Azadi march and apprise them as to what kind of assurances he had been given by those who control and manage political affairs in the country.

The sources said the JUI-F chief assured the participants of the MPC that he had not discussed any undemocratic move or plan during his meetings and only kept on pressing for holding fresh elections.

A senior PPP leader said his party had conveyed its reservations to the Maulana during the MPC about the reports that the JUI-F chief had struck some kind of a deal which would soon result in changes in Punjab, Balochistan and at the Centre. He said the party had declared in clear terms that they would not accept any in-house change, if it was brought through the same “selectors” who had imposed Imran Khan on the country.

Opposition’s committee

The three-member committee constituted by the opposition for consultation on the names of new CEC and the ECP members comprises PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal, PPP secretary general Nayyar Bokhari and convener of the opposition’s Rehbar Committee and senior JUI-F leader Akram Durrani.

Soon after the MPC, the committee had a preliminary meeting and discussed some parameters and criteria for the selection of the nominees for the positions of the CEC and ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan.

The sources said that the PPP was insisting that the new CEC should not be a retired judge or a retired general and they should find someone from the bureaucracy or civil society.

Talking to Dawn, Ahsan Iqbal said they wanted to nominate a person who should have a “strong credibility” and be able to hold free and fair elections without compromising.

“We are looking for the people from the public servants, retired officers, lawyers or even judges with integrity,” he said.

Mr Iqbal said that after finalising the names, the committee would send them to PML-N president and Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif.

Mr Sharif, currently in London with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had authorised the opposition’s Rehbar Committee to finalise the nominees for the office of the CEC and ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan after consultation with all opposition parties.

He said since under the Constitution, only the opposition leader and the prime minister were required to do consultations on the matter, therefore, Mr Sharif would then forward the list of the opposition’s nominees to Prime Minister Imran Khan through correspondence.

Mr Iqbal said Mr Sharif had received a letter jointly written by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser asking him to send the three names each for the offices of ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan in light of the decision of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which had directed the government and the opposition to resolve the matter by Dec 7 when the constitutional tenure of the incumbent CEC retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza would be over.

After receiving the names, the same will be sent to the parliamentary committee on appointment of ECP members. The move came less than three weeks before the retirement of the CEC.

When contacted, PPP’s Nayyar Bokhari said that in the meeting they had not discussed any new name for the posts of the CEC and ECP members and simply reviewed the names which had already been proposed by the government and the opposition in the past.

The positions of ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan have been lying vacant since January following 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 the prime minister and the opposition leader. And even after belated commencement of the indirect consultation process, a controversy arose when President Dr Arif Alvi on August 22 appointed both nominees from the PTI’s list as members of the ECP.

But the crisis deepened 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, saying their appointment was against the Constitution.

The appointment of two ECP members was challenged in the IHC by two members of the parliamentary committee belonging to the PML-N. The high court in its order earlier this month while observing that the constitutional provisions had not been followed had referred the matter to parliament and suspended the notification of appointment of the two members.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2019