FEARS of yet another deadlock between the PTI government and the opposition on the selection of successors for retiring ECP members from KP and Punjab loom large with no signs of the constitutionally required consultations between the two sides. Under the Constitution, the prime minister is required to initiate consultations with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly for jointly recommending a panel of three consensus nominees per vacancy for confirmation of one of them by a parliamentary committee. In case there is no agreement, the prime minister and opposition leader are supposed to separately send three names each to the committee having equal representation from the treasury and opposition benches. The law mandates that no ECP position should stay vacant for more than 45 days. But past experience shows that the issue of new appointments may linger for a longer period.
In the recent past, for example, we have seen the ECP becoming virtually non-functional because the government wouldn’t engage with the opposition on filling the vacancies. The appointment of the ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan took more than a year because the prime minister was not willing to engage with the opposition leader. The government also unsuccessfully tried to bypass the constitutional mechanism for the appointment of commissioners. In the past, disagreement between the then PML-N administration and the PTI opposition had resulted in the unlawful appointment of three members to the ECP. The failure of politicians to fulfil constitutional responsibilities because of their inability to rise above parochial positions speaks volumes for the deepening political polarisation in the country. It is time that politicians learnt from their past mistakes and started to engage with one another on national and constitutional matters as is the case in other democracies. The onus of initiating consultations with the opposition is on the prime minister. At the end of the day, it is he who will have to take much of the responsibility if there is delay in new appointments.
Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2021