ECP appointments rift

Published September 7, 2021

AS expected, the opposition has rejected the names given by the government for appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan had written a letter to Shehbaz Sharif, the opposition Leader in the National Assembly, proposing names for the posts that fell vacant after the retirement of two members of the ECP. The laid-down procedure for these appointments demands that the prime minister and the leader of the opposition hold consultations and agree on the names for the appointment. If they cannot agree, then the matter is sent to a parliamentary committee that takes the decision. The prime minister has refused to meet the leader of the opposition in person and the consultation is being done through correspondence. While rejecting the nominees of the government, Mr Sharif has constituted a committee that will propose names after consultation with other opposition parties. The PML-N and PPP have already initiated this consultation process among themselves.

However, the deadline for the appointment of the two members of the ECP — that gives a specified time frame between retirement and appointment — is likely to be missed. This would mean the ECP will for now comprise of the chairman and two members only. While this strength will allow the ECP decision-making to continue unaffected, if one member is not available for any reason, the ECP could face problems in terms of quorum for decisions. It is unfortunate that the extreme polarisation between the government and opposition is now adversely affecting important constitutional obligations that are necessary for the smooth running of institutions. There was a spirit behind establishing such processes — a functional working relationship between the leader of the house and leader of the opposition — so that key appointments are made without the toxicity of partisanship. That spirit today has evaporated in the heat of polarisation and now the two sides are merely going through the motions to fulfil the laid-down procedure. This reflects poorly on the democratic framework for governance and depletes confidence in the political leadership’s ability to navigate its way through rivalries while ensuring the running of the state is not affected.

This problem is beginning to cast a shadow on the conduct of the next general elections which are two years away at most. The issue of electoral reforms — so critical to inject confidence into the system — seems to be falling victim to this same polarisation. The opposition has categorically rejected the use of electronic voting machines while the government is insistent upon them and is threatening to bulldoze the legislation. Were this to happen, the elections would start to generate controversy at such an early stage and further weaken the already low level of trust in them. The government should take the initiative to lower this partisanship so that, if nothing else, the next elections are seen as fair and transparent.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2021

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