Panel on ECP appointments drops plan to amend rules

Updated 22 Dec 2019

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The ECP became non-functional after the retirement of CEC Sardar Mohammad Raza on Dec 5. — AFP/File
The ECP became non-functional after the retirement of CEC Sardar Mohammad Raza on Dec 5. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The parliamentary committee on the appointment of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has dropped the plan to amend its rules.

According to a notice placed by the National Assembly’s secretariat on its official website on Thursday, the panel’s meeting scheduled for Dec 24 had amendment to the committee’s rules on the agenda. The very next day, a revised agenda was released — this time excluding item number 2 — related to amendment of committee rules.

Though the original agenda did not specify the amendment, informed sources told Dawn that it was all about doing away with the requirement of a two-thirds majority to confirm the nomination for the CEC or a member of the commission.

Clause 2 of the parliamentary committee on the CEC appointment and members of the Election Commission Rules 2011 in its present form reads: “The committee after considering the nomination for an actual or anticipated vacancy of the Chief Election Commissioner or a member of the Election Commission may hear and confirm any nomination by a two third majority of its total membership within fourteen days of the receipt of such nomination.”

Issue of selection of two members as well as chief commissioner has been lingering on for months

The decision to amend the rule had been taken in view of the ongoing stalemate over the CEC appointment and members of the ECP from Sindh and Balochistan to pave the way for a decision on appointments with simple majority. The parliamentary committee has 12 members – six each from the government and the opposition.

Committee member Mushahidullah Khan while talking to Dawn had disclosed that the exact amendment the PTI was looking for had not been shared with the members of the panel belonging to the opposition and criticised non-transparency in proceedings.

Informed sources said the decision had to be reversed after the government realised that the amendment of the rules also required a two-thirds majority and thus it was not possible to get the proposed amendment approved unless at least two members of the bipartisan panel belonging to the opposition agreed to support it.

Section 10 of the rules reads: "The committee shall have power to amend any of the provisions of these rules with two third majority of the total membership of the committee."

The ECP became non-functional after the retirement of CEC Sardar Mohammad Raza on Dec 5. Two of the four members of the commission from Sindh and Balochistan had retired back in January last year.

On Aug 22, the president 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. But the CEC refused to administer the oath of office to both of them while terming their appointment unconstitutional.

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”. On Nov 4, the IHC suspended the appointments and referred the matter to parliament. Both the government and the opposition had already proposed three names each for the three vacant positions in the ECP, but the parliamentary committee having equal representation of the government and the opposition could not reach an understanding. National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser tried to play the role of a facilitator and held two meetings with the representatives from both the sides, but failed to break the deadlock.

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.

In case a consensus is not reached between the prime minister and the opposition leader, the law says that each will forward separate names to the parliamentary committee for finalisation 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 the lawmakers from the government and the opposition.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2019