ISLAMABAD: Outgoing Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Raza Khan speaks at a ceremony organised to mark the National Voters Day on Thursday.—Online
ISLAMABAD: Outgoing Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Raza Khan speaks at a ceremony organised to mark the National Voters Day on Thursday.—Online

ISLAMABAD: With an expectation that the matter pertaining to the appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan would be resolved in 10 days, the Islamabad High Court has adjourned until Dec 17 the hearing on identical petitions filed against President Dr Arif Alvi’s act of appointing the two ECP members by exercising his discretionary powers.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah took the decision on Thursday while hearing the petitions filed by Shahnawaz Ranjha and Nisar Ahmed Cheema of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as well as Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon.

On Aug 22, President Alvi appointed Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui as ECP member for Sindh and Munir Ahmed Kakar for Balochistan against the positions vacated by Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and retired Justice Shakeel Baloch, from the two provinces. However, the chief election commissioner (CEC) refused to administer the oath of office to Mr Soomro as well as Mr Baloch.

In a written statement the ECP said the president had made the appointments “in violation of clauses 2A and 2B of Article 213 of the Constitution”.

Justice Minallah says he has no reason to believe elected representatives will allow election commission to become non-functional

On Nov 4, the IHC suspended the appointments and referred the matter to parliament.

On Thursday, National Assembly’s secretary Tahir Hussain appeared before Justice Minallah and described in detail the efforts made by the National Assembly speaker and Senate chairman regarding the process for appointment of the CEC and ECP members.

He requested the court to grant some additional time so that the issue could be resolved amicably as members from both the treasury and opposition benches were responding positively to the efforts made in this regard by the NA speaker and Senate chairman.

Barrister Ranjha confirmed to the court that the efforts made so far were encouraging and that the process was expected to be completed before the next date of hearing.

At this the court recorded its appreciation for the efforts made by the NA speaker and Senate chairman for bridging the gap between the government and the opposition.

The court noted that the “dignity, authority and supremacy of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) is of paramount importance. Intervention by the courts is neither desirable nor in consonance with the status of the Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament) and spirit of the Constitution in matters which exclusively fall within its domain.”

Justice Minallah observed: “The elected representatives owe a duty to the people of Pakistan to uphold the dignity and supremacy of the Majlis-e-Shoora. It is their obligation to ensure that people’s confidence in the parliament is maintained. This can only be achieved if the disputes are resolved without involving the courts’ intervention. Even if there is any vacuum or gap in the procedure prescribed in the Constitution, it is an obligation of the members [of parliament] to find a solution because they have been elected by the people of Pakistan and empowered not only to legislate but to amend the Constitution as well.”

Subsequently, he remarked that for the aforementioned reason, the IHC exercised restraint in deciding these petitions and the matter was referred to the NA speaker and the Senate chairman.

“The leaders of the house and opposition in the National Assembly owe it to the people of Pakistan to rise to the occasion and ensure that the dignity, sanctity and supremacy of parliament is not undermine,” he added.

Expressing confidence in the elected representatives of the people, the court noted that every elected representative would help restore the people’s confidence in the parliament if the most eligible persons were appointed to the ECP as its members and the CEC without the intervention of the court.

Justice Minallah said he had no reason to believe that the elected representatives would allow the ECP — one of the most important constitutional forums — to become non-functional.

The court adjourned the hearing till Dec 17.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2019