ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may remain incomplete for an indefinite period as its members from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are set to retire on Monday (today) with no signs in sight for their replacements.
The issue of appointment of ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan could not be resolved earlier for at least one year though the ECP members are to be appointed within 45 days of their retirement as per law.
Under the Constitution, the ECP comprises chief election commissioner and four members — one from each province.
However, three of the four ECP members had been appointed in 2016 in contravention of a constitutional provision that bars re-employment of judges of the superior judiciary within two years of their retirement.
No signs for replacement in sight
One of them was former judge of the Balochistan High Court Shakeel Baloch who has also retired from the ECP, and the two other members were retired justice Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi from Punjab and retired justice Irshad Qaiser from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who will be completing their five-year term as ECP members on Monday.
Article 207 (2) of the Constitution reads: “A person who has held office as judge of the Supreme Court or of a high court shall not hold any office of profit in the service of Pakistan, not being a judicial or quasi judicial office or the office of Chief Election Commissioner or of Chairman or member of a law commission or of Chairman or member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, before the expiration of two years after he has ceased to hold that office”.
None of the three retired judges who were appointed as ECP members had completed the mandatory period of two years without holding any office of profit after their retirement. The most glaring case was that of retired Justice Baloch who took the oath only five days after resigning from the Balochistan High Court on July 21, 2016 and some 10 days before his retirement was due.
Likewise, retired Justice Qaiser became the first-ever woman member of the ECP within 45 days of her retirement from the Peshawar High Court on June 14, 2016.
Retired Justice Qureshi was appointed to the ECP as its member from Punjab in July 2016 seven months before the completion of the two-year post-retirement period, as he retired from the Lahore High Court on March 5, 2015.
Under the procedure, the prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader sends three names for each position of an ECP member to a parliamentary panel for confirmation and if they fail to reach consensus, separate lists are sent to the panel for final decision.
The ECP members who were otherwise ineligible for the appointment had been brought in after the then ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party had failed to reach consensus and separate lists of nominees were sent to a parliamentary panel. According to the 12-name lists, all the four successful nominees were mentioned by the PML-N as its second-choice candidates while two of the confirmed members were the PPP’s first choice and two were its second choice. As the panel picked the four names that were common, the exercise took less than two hours.
During the term of the present PTI government, the issue of appointment of ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan could not be resolved for one year.
The process was marked by indirect consultations between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif, the failure of the parliamentary committee to reach a decision after both sides sent separate lists to it and the controversy involving unilateral notification of two ECP members by the government and refusal of the then Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Sardar Raza to administer the oath to them.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2021