• Joint opposition files petition as constitutional crisis looms with chief election commissioner’s retirement today
• Shireen Mazari says ‘consensus is developing’ on appointment of two members

ISLAMABAD: In what appears to be a cautiously worded plea for extension in the service term of the Chief Election Commi­ssioner, the joint opposition on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court seeking an ‘appropriate order’ to avert a constitutional crisis that will occur with the retirement of incumbent CEC Sardar Mohammad Raza on Thursday (today).

The petition pointed out that as two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan — one each from Sindh and Balochistan — retired on Jan 26, the ECP would become defunct following the CEC’s retirement and the entire electoral system of the country would come to a standstill.

“… the respondent no. 1 (federation of Pakistan) is so negligent that even in case of appointment or ext­ension of COAS, it failed to perform its duty in accordance with law as such the matter came before this August Court which vide short order dated 28.11.2019 resolved the issue. That keeping in view that the retirement of current CEC will lead to a Constitutional Crisis and this August Court will eventually have to adjudicate upon this issue, the petitioners are left with no other option but to invoke the extraordinary jurisdiction of this Honourable Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution…”, it reads.

The petitioners include opposition’s Rehber committee’s convener Akram Khan Durrani (JUI-F), secretary general of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Ahsan Iqbal, former National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, former Senate chairman Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, PPP-P sec­retary general Farhat­ullah Babar, Mian Iftikhar Hussain (ANP), Mohammad Usman Kakar (PkMAP), Mohammad Tahir Bizenjo (NP), Hashim Babar (QWP), Rana Shafiq Pasroori (MJAH) and Shah Owais Noorani (JUP-N).

“That the silence of procedure laid down in Article 213 of Constitution in an instance where no consensus is reached in Parliamen­tary Committee over app­oint­ment of Members and Chief Election Commissi­oner will lead to a Constitu­tional crisis in the country. That due to lack of consensus over appointments of CEC & Members of ECP or a Constitutional Amendment to resolve this issue, the only viable options left would be to approach this August Court,” the petition reads.

It says the ECP under Article 218 of the Consti­tution comprises CEC and four members, one from each province. Two of the four members retired on Jan 26, but their replacement had not been made in violation of the Constitution, it adds.

“…On the other hand, the term of current Chief Election Commissioner is set to end on December 5 which would leave the Election Commission of Pakistan (“ECP”) with only two members thereby leaving the ECP defunct so that on one hand no election or by-election can take place while on the other the cases pending before it will not proceed so practically a Constitutional body will be non-functional.”

It fears that it will leave the CEC appointment in chaos similar to the appointment of the two ECP members. However, it says, the significance will be higher this time as the ECP would become dysfunctional.

Meanwhile, the stalemate on appointment of two ECP members continued at the meeting of a parliamentary committee that met here on Wednesday with federal Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari in the chair.

Informed sources told Dawn that the opposition insisted that the government should share the name of its nominee for the position of Chief Election Commissioner before taking up any discussion on the appointment of ECP members.

A lawmaker from the opposition said the government apparently wanted to run the ECP on ad hoc basis by appointing ECP member from Punjab as acting CEC. However, he said the opposition would not let this happen.

Ms Mazari, who chaired the committee, insisted that “consensus was developing” in the meeting on the appointments. She described the meeting as “very good” and the talks as “positive”. She claimed that the government and the opposition were in agreement that the panel should propose the names of the CEC and ECP members together.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2019