ISLAMABAD: Deadlock over the appointment of the Chief Election Commis­sioner (CEC) and two members of the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) may end next week as Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday proposed three names for the CEC position to leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif.

The new nominees from the government — all retired bureaucrats — are Jamil Ahmad, Fazal Abbas Maken and Sikandar Sultan Raja.

“Kindly refer to my earlier letter … dated 4th December, 2019 with regard to three nominations for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan under clause (2-A) of Article 213 of the Constitution…. In order to have meaningful and result-oriented consultations and as another attempt to resolve this longstanding issue, I hereby propose the revised panel, comprising of the following for appointment….”

After naming them, the PM expressed hope for an early response from the opposition leader who is also president of the Pakistan Muslim Leagu-Nawaz. Mr Maken’s name was there on the previous list as well, while the two others were former ECP secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad and former interior secretary Arif Ahmad Khan.

Sources in the government as well as in the opposition believed that the next meeting of a parliamentary panel on the appointment of CEC and ECP members scheduled for Monday would be conclusive.

As per understanding, both sides said, the name for CEC would be picked from the government list, while ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan would be selected from the names proposed by the opposition.

A source in the opposition said the new names being sought from the opposition for the CEC position was a ‘mere formality’, as the one selected from the government list would fill the position. However, he added, the opposition would give names before the parliamentary committee meeting, which is scheduled for Monday.

Jamil Ahmad, the first nominee on the government’s list, had been promoted to grade-22 and appointed federal tax ombudsman at the fag end of the then Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s term in office. At that time he was serving as additional secretary for national food security. Earlier in June 2015 when he was promoted to grade-21, Mr Ahmad served as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa local government secretary.

Mr Ahmad hails from Hazara division of KP.

Mr Maken served as additional interior secretary, national food security secretary, science and technology secretary. His last appointment was cabinet division secretary before his retirement in March 2019. He also served as Pakistan’s trade minister in India. He also served as KP secretary and Punjab secretary. He hails from Sargodha.

Sikandar Sultan Raja, who retired only a couple of months ago as railways secretary, had also served as petroleum secretary and chief secretary of both Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan. He was director general (passports) when Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was interior minister. He served as provincial secretary of communications and works, services and general administration, besides local government secretary before being appointed additional chief secretary in Punjab for a brief period.

He is the son-in-law of Saeed Mehdi, who also served as principal secretary to the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and brother-in-law of Islamabad Chief Commissioner Amir Ahmad Ali, who is considered to be close to Prime Minister Imran Khan these days.

Raja’s father was an army officer. His wife Rabab Sikandar is a serving grade-21 officer of Pakistan Customs.

While his name appeared on a third position in order of priority on the government list, the sources said his chances for being selected were high.

The ECP had become dysfunctional with the retirement of Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza on December 5, as members representing Sindh and Balochistan, Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and retired justice Shakeel Ahmad Baloch, respectively, had already retired in January last year.

On Aug 22, President Arif Alvi through a controversial order appointed Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui as ECP member for Sindh and Munir Ahmed Kakar for Balochistan against the vacant positions, but the CEC terming their appointment unconstitutional refused to administer the oath of office to them. The ECP then stated the president had made the appointments “in violation of clauses 2A and 2B of Article 213 of the Constitution”.

On Nov 4, the Islamabad High Court suspended the appointments and referred the matter to the parliament.

The government had finally proposed three new names each for the two positions, but the stalemate continued, with the opposition seeking proposed names for the CEC office as well to make all appointments in one go. It was finally decided that both the sides would give fresh names for the office of CEC.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2020