WHERE legislation regarding the appointment of the services chiefs was concerned, nearly all parties in parliament showed surprising alacrity to get the job done. However, another equally important matter seems to have not elicited the same zeal from our parliamentarians: the need to appoint a permanent chief election commissioner.
The Election Commission of Pakistan has been without a CEC since Sardar Mohammad Raza’s retirement in early December, although the Constitution mandates that when ECP positions fall vacant, they must be filled within 45 days.
The relevant parliamentary committee consisting of government and opposition members has failed to agree on a consensus candidate, while an acting CEC calls the shots.
In fact, the electoral watchdog is short of two other members besides the CEC: the vacancies were created after the retirement of members from Sindh and Balochistan, but have not been filled because of the acrimonious relationship between the government and the opposition.
This lethargy in managing the affairs of this key institution by lawmakers is confounding.
However, media reports indicate there has been some movement of late, with former prime minister and PPP leader Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who is a member of the aforesaid parliamentary committee, saying that both sides will meet soon to break the deadlock.
The ECP plays a critical role in holding up the democratic edifice in the country by conducting and overseeing the electoral process. From local government polls to the general elections, the ECP needs to be in perfect working order for the democratic process to function smoothly. What is more, the CEC must be a non-polarising, non-controversial figure acceptable to all political players.
However, the attitude of parliamentarians up till now indicates they are not too bothered about this key national institution and its top office.
This is strange as the PTI, while on the opposition benches, regularly and stridently raised the issue of electoral reform, particularly the importance of making the ECP more independent and effective.
Opposition parties — most of which have raised doubts about the fairness of the 2018 polls — have shown a similarly lacklustre attitude where appointing the ECP members is concerned.
In October, the Islamabad High Court, while hearing a petition on the government’s controversial attempt to unilaterally appoint the two provincial ECP members, had asked: “Can parliament not even solve such a small issue?”
The government and opposition must give the ECP the importance it deserves by appointing the CEC and provincial members without further delay.
As the case of the services chiefs’ legislation shows, when the politicians put their minds to it, they can get the job done within record time.
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2020