Speaker hints at referring ECP appointments issue to court

Updated December 16, 2019

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National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar said if the government and the opposition failed to reach a consensus, he would submit a report to the Islamabad High Court, which would take a decision on the matter.  — Photo courtesy GOP Twitter.
National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar said if the government and the opposition failed to reach a consensus, he would submit a report to the Islamabad High Court, which would take a decision on the matter. — Photo courtesy GOP Twitter.

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar has said that if the stalemate between the government and the opposition continues on Monday (today) over the issue of appointment of the chief election commissioner (CEC) and two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), he would have no option but to refer the matter to court for settlement.

“We are quite hopeful that both sides will reach a consensus on the names of the candidates for the posts of CEC and ECP members, but in case of no agreement, we have no option but to refer the matter to the court,” he said while talking to Dawn on Sunday.

Mr Qaiser said the 10-day deadline given by the Islamabad High Court to resolve the issue expired on Monday and if the government and the opposition failed to reach a consensus, he would submit a report on failure of talks to the IHC, which would take a decision on the matter.

The speaker said the government had agreed to the opposition’s demand that the decision on appointment of the CEC and two ECP members be taken at the same time. He said it was a test case for parliament to take its own decision and avoid sending the matter to the court. He claimed that the government and the opposition were close to an understanding.

Parliamentary committee to discuss matter today

It has been learnt that under the ‘understanding’, the candidate for the CEC post is most likely to be picked from the three names proposed by the government, while ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan are in all probability to be taken from the opposition’s list.

A source said that behind-the-scenes talks between the government and the opposition continued to choose consensus candidates.

The ECP became non-functional after the retirement of CEC Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan on Dec 5. The ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan — Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and retired Justice Shakeel Baloch — retired on Jan 26.

Under Articles 213 and 218 of the Constitution, the prime minister, in consultation with the opposition leader, forwards three names for the post of CEC to a parliamentary committee constituted by the National Assembly speaker for confirmation of one name.

The law is, however, silent on the way forward in case of a stalemate at the bipartisan parliamentary committee having equal representation of lawmakers from the government and the opposition.

Interestingly, the joint opposition has already moved the Supreme Court, seeking an ‘appropriate order’ to avert a constitutional crisis. The opposition’s petition pointed out that as two members of the ECP retired on Jan 26, the commission would become defunct following the CEC’s retirement and the entire electoral system of the country would come to a standstill.

Following the deadlock over the appointment of CEC and two members of the ECP when the government on Friday stuck to its decision to appoint ECP secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad as the CEC, with the opposition remaining firm it would not let it happen, NA Speaker Qaiser jumped into the fray and tried to play the role of a facilitator.

The parliamentary committee on appointment of the CEC and ECP members, headed by Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, could not meet as per schedule and its meeting had to be put off till Monday (today) — the third postponement in a week.

While the government insisted on the name of Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad, which appears on top of the list of three names proposed by it for the CEC office, the opposition, particularly Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N, opposed the move as he said the government’s nominee number 1 [Mr Yaboob] for the CEC office was the ECP secretary when the 2018 general elections were allegedly rigged. He was of the view that the opposition’s narrative would stand nowhere if it agreed on Babar Yaqoob’s name.

It has been learnt that the government had offered the opposition to have two ECP members of its choice in return, if the opposition agreed on its nomination for the CEC. It is believed that the opposition will be in strong position in the ECP if two new members of the commission are appointed from the opposition’s nominees because two incumbent members of the commission, out of total five, including the CEC, were already appointed by the opposition during the last PML-N government.

Under the new elections act, powers of the CEC have been shifted to the whole commission and decisions are made on the majority of votes.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2019