Former Justice Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi, a sitting member of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), on Friday took oath as acting chief election commissioner following the retirement of his predecessor former Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza a day earlier, but the ECP would remain dysfunctional due to its incomplete formation.
Former Justice Irshad Qaiser, another ECP member, administered oath to Qureshi in a ceremony held at the ECP.
His elevation as the acting CEC would not resolve the fresh crisis that has hit the ECP following the retirement of Raza, Business Recorder has learnt.
Constitutionally, the ECP comprises five top officials; a CEC and four members, and needs at least three of them for its formation to complete to take decisions by majority vote. In the absence of a CEC and two members, the ECP has been left with only two members one of whom, the senior one in terms of age, has assumed charge of the acting CEC.
A dysfunctional ECP means the Commission would not be empowered to hear any case related to electoral disputes and take policy decisions, an ECP source told Business Recorder. "The functions performed by the CEC and members would come to a halt," the insider said.
However, the administrative decisions like transfers and postings of ECP personnel, approvals of day-to-day affairs and other relevant matters are taken by the secretary ECP which would continue as per routine, the ECP source said.
The proceedings of ECP Scrutiny Committee hearing foreign funding case would also not be affected keeping in view that the case is not heard by the CEC and/or ECP members, the ECP official said.
The three-member Scrutiny Committee which is hearing foreign funding case related to three major political parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), is headed by ECP's Director General (Law) Muhammad Arshad as its chairman and includes DG (Audit) Defence Services Masood Akhtar Sherwani and Controller Accounts Air Force Muhammad Faheem as its members.
Even if the CEC is not appointed, the ECP can remain functional if Prime Minister Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif come together to get the two ECP members appointed, which means that the ECP will have four members and would be in position to take decisions, according to sources.
In case the deadlock persists between the government and opposition over the appointment of the CEC, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) is constitutionally empowered to nominate a serving judge of the Supreme Court to act as acting CEC till the regular appointment on this position.
The joint opposition has already moved the SC for the appointment of CEC after the 12-member Parliamentary Committee on Appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and Members of Election Commission of Pakistan, which comprises six parliamentarians each from the treasury and opposition benches, failed to reach consensus on the appointment of the two ECP members and deferred the matter till next week on the pretext that the names of the new CEC and members ECP would be announced together in the committee meeting scheduled on December 11.
On Thursday, the PM recommended incumbent Secretary ECP Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad and former federal secretaries Fazal Abbas Maken and Arif Khan for the elevation of anyone of them to the coveted slot of the CEC.
Last week, the NA opposition leader recommended the names of former federal secretaries Nasir Mahmood Khosa, Jalil Abbas Jillani and Akhlaq Ahmad Tarar for the CEC post.
The PM also last week recommended former Justice Sadiq Bhatti, 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 the position of member ECP position from Balochistan.
The NA opposition leader suggested the names of Nisar Durrani, former Justice Abdur Rasool Memon and Aurangzeb Haq as member ECP from Sindh, and Shah Mehmood Jatoi, Rauf Atta and Raheel Durrani for the same position from Balochistan.
The CEC and ECP members are appointed with consensus between the leader of the house and leader of the opposition in NA. 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.
"(2B) The Parliamentary Committee to be constituted by the Speaker shall comprise 50 percent members from the Treasury Benches and 50 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 criterion 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.