In a move that has raised eyebrows, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday sought a response from Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan in a contempt case despite the fact that the ECP, due to its incomplete formation, is dysfunctional and not authorized to do so, Business Recorder has learnt.
A two-member ECP bench comprising of Acting Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) former Justice Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi and member ECP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) former Justice Irshad Qaiser heard the case filed by one Khalid Mehmood against Firdous Ashiq Awan for allegedly making 'negative' statements against the ECP. The case is pending since December 2019.
Keeping in view that the ECP has been left dysfunctional following the retirement of CEC Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza on December 5, 2019, the acting CEC/members ECP are no longer authorized to hear the case or decide any matter concerning politicians, lawmakers, political parties or any related electoral dispute, sources in the ECP told Business Recorder on condition of strict anonymity.
On December 3 last year, when the ECP had first issued notice to Firdous in the contempt case, the commission's formation was complete and it was authorised to do so, an ECP source said.
However, after December 5 last year, when the ECP became dysfunctional, the commission is no longer empowered to hear the case, the source said.
On December 6, 2019, former Justice Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi, a sitting ECP member from Punjab, took oath as acting CEC but the ECP would remain dysfunctional due to its incomplete formation. The positions of members ECP from Sindh and Balochistan are lying vacant since earlier last year.
"Constitutionally, the ECP comprises of 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 dysfunctional with only two members, one of whom, the senior one in terms of age, assumed charge of the acting CEC," the official said.
Business Recorder tried to get the ECP's viewpoint on the matter but the commission did not respond till the filing of this report on Thursday night.
The government and the opposition parties have, so far, failed to resolve the lingering deadlock over the appointment of the CEC and the two ECP members.
The administrative decisions concerning the ECP personnel like transfers and postings, approvals of day-to-day affairs and other relevant matters are taken by the secretary ECP which would continue as per routine, sources said.
The proceedings of the ECP Scrutiny Committee hearing foreign funding case have also not been affected by the incomplete formation of the ECP keeping in view that the case is not heard by the CEC and/or ECP members, Business Recorder learnt.
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 People's 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.
On December 30, 2019, the acting CEC elevated Zafar Iqbal Hussain as Secretary Election ECP, from the position of Provincial Election Commissioner Punjab, following the retirement of Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad as the Secretary ECP.