Failing to reach consensus over the appointment of the two ECP members, the Parliamentary Committee on Appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and Members of Election Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday deferred the matter till next week on the pretext that the names of the new CEC and members would be announced together, in a scenario that could potentially leave the ECP dysfunctional after December 6, the incumbent CEC's retirement date.
The 12-member parliamentary committee which comprises six legislators each from the treasury and opposition benches, met in the chair of Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari.
In the previous meeting of the parliamentary committee held on Tuesday last, the panel had reached consensus over the appointment of government's nominee Naveed Jan Baloch as ECP member from Balochistan and it was expected that the government and opposition would come together in Wednesday's meeting to agree on opposition's nominee for the appointment of ECP member from Sindh.
Sources privy to the details of the in-camera parliamentary committee meeting told Business Recorder that in Tuesday's meeting, the government asked the opposition to support the government's candidate as ECP member from Balochistan, and, in return, was willing to accept opposition's nominee as ECP member from Sindh. But on Wednesday, the government stressed on opposition to agree to government's nomination for the position of member ECP for Sindh too. Reportedly, the opposition members conveyed to the treasury benches if the government wanted its candidates to be appointed as two ECP members then it should agree to any of the opposition's nominations for the CEC slot, which the government refused, resulting in the meeting to end in stalemate.
Disgruntled by the government's stance, the joint opposition has moved the Supreme Court for the appointment of the CEC. On the other hand, the government functionaries including Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Leader of the House in Senate Shibli Faraz have strongly opposed the opposition's step to move SC for the appointment of new CEC.
Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif recommended separate names for the appointment of two ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan.
In reply to a joint letter from Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani and Speaker NA Asad Qaiser asking both the PM and opposition leader in NA to send their respective nominations for the appointment of two ECP members, the PM recommended Justice Sadiq Bhatti (retd), Justice Noorul Haq Qureshi (retd) and Abdul Jabbar Qureshi for the position of member ECP from Sindh and Dr Faiz Kakar, Naveed Jan Baloch and Amanullah Baloch for member ECP from Balochistan.
The NA opposition leader suggested the names of Nisar Durrani, Justice Abdur Rasool Memon (retd) and Aurangzeb Haq for the position of member ECP from Sindh, and Shah Mehmood Jatoi, Rauf Atta and Raheel Durrani for the same position from Balochistan.
Separately, the NA opposition leader recommended the names of Nasir Mehmood Khosa, Jalil Abbas Jillani and Akhlaq Ahmad Tarar for the position of CEC while the PM's recommendations for the position of CEC are still awaited. The outgoing CEC Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza (retd) is retiring tomorrow (Friday).
In a recent letter to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, the outgoing CEC asked the government to take steps for the appointment of new CEC and two ECP members keeping in view that the Commission would constitutionally cease to function beyond December 6.
The ECP, it is learnt, can remain functional if the PM and NA opposition leader come together to get the two ECP members appointed by December 6, which means that the ECP will have four members and would be in position to take decisions even if the CEC retires.
In case the deadlock between the government and opposition over the appointment of the CEC persists, the SC is constitutionally empowered to appoint an acting CEC after the incumbent CEC retires on December 6.
The Article 217 of the Constitution of Pakistan reads, "At any time when (a) the office of Commissioner is vacant, or (b) the Commissioner is absent or unable to perform the functions of his office due to any other cause, a Judge of the Supreme Court nominated by the Chief Justice of Pakistan shall Act as Commissioner."
The CEC and ECP members are appointed with consensus between the leader of the house and leader of the opposition in National Assembly.
The Article 213 reads, "(2 A) The Prime Minister shall in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, forward three names for appointment of the Commissioner to a Parliamentary Committee for hearing and confirmation of any one person.
"Article (2B) The Parliamentary Committee to be constituted by the Speaker shall comprise fifty percent members from the Treasury Benches and fifty percent from the Opposition Parties, based on their strength in Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), to be nominated by the respective Parliamentary Leaders:
"Provided that in case there is no consensus between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, each shall forward separate lists to the Parliamentary Committee for consideration which may confirm any one name."
In the light of relevant constitutional provisions, the criteria for the appointment of the CEC and the four ECP members (one member is appointed from each province) is the same and the CEC and ECP members are appointed for five years with half of the members (two out of four) retiring after 2.5 years.