Deadline for appointment of ECP members may be missed

Published September 5, 2021
A security official uses a metal detector to check the area of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in Islamabad.  — AFP/File
A security official uses a metal detector to check the area of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in Islamabad. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The government and the opposition are again likely to miss the 45-day constitutional deadline for the appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) as Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif has rejected all six nominees of Prime Minister Imran Khan, but is yet to suggest his own names.

Mr Sharif, who is also the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), on Saturday constituted a five-member committee under the convenership of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to suggest the names from the opposition side after consultation with other opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl.

Mr Sharif has constituted the committee at a time when the deadline for the appointment of two ECP members from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is set to expire on Sept 9. The two ECP members had retired on July 26 after completing their five-year constitutional term.

Earlier in the day, Mr Sharif talked to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari over telephone and consulted him on the issue of the appointment of ECP members.

Shehbaz forms committee to suggest names; talks to Bilawal over phone

Mr Bhutto-Zardari received the telephone call in Multan where he arrived on Saturday as part of his week-long visit to south Punjab in connection with the PPP’s re-organisation.

Mr Sharif contacted the PPP chairman one week after receiving a formal letter from Prime Minister Imran Khan suggesting three names each for appointment of ECP members from Punjab and KP.

The prime minister has proposed the names of Ahsan Mahboob, former officer of the Police Service of Pakistan; Raja Amer Khan, an advocate of the Supreme Court; and Dr Syed Pervaiz Abbas, a former officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), for the vacant post of the ECP member from Punjab.

For the appointment of ECP member from KP, the premier has suggested the names of retired Justice Ikramullah Khan, former PAS officer Faridullah Khan and Supreme Court advocate Muzammil Khan.

Talking to Dawn, PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal said they had rejected the names suggested by the government, alleging that the premier had nominated his “friends and relatives” for the key constitutional posts. On the other hand, he said, the PML-N would suggest “credible” names for the two offices after consultation with other opposition parties.

Replying to a question, Mr Iqbal expressed the hope that the committee formed by the PML-N president would complete its task within a couple of days and before expiry of the deadline.

Mr Iqbal, who is also a member of the newly-formed PML-N committee, criticised the prime minister for not doing “meaningful consultations” on the issue of the ECP appointments. He said the prime minister had sent a letter to the opposition leader which showed that he was not interested at all in establishing a “working relationship” with the opposition.

Other members of the PML-N committee are Khawaja Asif, Azam Nazeer Tarar and Rana Tanveer.

Talking to Dawn, federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said they had come to know that the opposition leader had rejected the six names proposed by the prime minister and that the opposition would give its own names. He said the government was still awaiting a formal response from the opposition leader to the letter written to him by the prime minister last week. Mr Chaudhry said he believed that the matter would finally be decided by the parliamentary committee.

Under the Constitution, the ECP comprises chief election commissioner and four members, one from each province. Article 215(4) inserted in the Constitution through the 22nd Amendment reads: “Vacancy in the office of the commissioner or a member shall be filled within 45 days.”

Earlier in 2019, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led coalition government had missed the constitutional deadline of 45 days for the appointment of two ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan when PM Khan had refused to hold direct and mandatory consultation with the opposition leader on the issue. However, when the issue landed at the Islamabad High Court, the prime minister consulted Mr Sharif through correspondence.

This was repeated last year at the time of chief election commissioner’s (CEC’s) appointment as well.

Under Articles 213 and 218 of the Constitution, the prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader forwards three names for the appointment of CEC or an ECP member to a parliamentary committee for confirmation of one name.

The parliamentary committee, constituted by the National Assembly speaker, draws half of its members from the treasury benches and other half from opposition parties, based on their strength in the parliament, to be nominated by their respective parliamentary leaders.

In case, a consensus cannot be reached between the prime minister and the opposition leader, the law says each will forward separate lists to the parliamentary committee for finalisation of names.

According to Fawad Chaudhry, a direct meeting between the prime minister and the opposition leader is not necessary for consultations on the issue of the appointments in the ECP.

The minister had already declared that there were various forms of consultations and it could be done through correspondence as happened previously.

The mechanism for retirement of two members after their half-term in office was also put in place through the 22nd Amendment to ensure the continuity of the electoral body. Article 215(1) of the Constitution in its amended form reads: “The Commissioner [and a member] shall, subject to this Article, hold office for a term of five years from the day he enters upon his office.”

A proviso to the article reads: “Provided that two of the members shall retire after the expiration of the first two and a half years and two shall retire after the expiration of the next two and a half years: Provided further that the Commission shall for the first term of office of members draw a lot as to which two members shall retire after the first two and a half years.”

However, under the amended law, it was a one-time arrangement, meaning that in future all members will complete their five-year tenure.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2021

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