ISLAMABAD - Process of appointing a fulltime Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has hit snags as main opposition party – PPP - ostensibly in afterthought wants the nominated Justice (r) Bhagwandas to continue as Federal Public Service (FPSC) chairman in the institutional interest.
This would technically mean that the ruling PML-N would not be able to get passed the amendment bill – tabled for relaxing FPSC rules and paving way for Bhagwandas’ appointment as CEC – from the Senate, where it needed PPP support for the purpose.
Name of Justice Bhagwandas was chosen from among three nominees selected with consensus of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah.
Interestingly, both these parties earlier got this amendment bill passed from the National Assembly but have nudged to pass it in the Senate because of PPP’s eleventh hour change of mind as well as stiff opposition from the MQM and ANP on March 10.
“It was result of the wisdom that eventually prevailed and the amendment bill relating to FPSC rules was not passed by the Upper House”, PPP spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Baber told The Nation on Sunday. He went on to say that he himself had opposed the amendment.
Babar was of the view that it would not be in the interest of Bghawandas himself, who is a man of admirable integrity, as well as the FPSC as the amendment in rules might lead to mismanagement and corruption in the national institution of repute.
When asked why PPP passed the bill in the National Assembly, he declaring it a beauty of parliamentary system argued that parliamentary wisdom prevailed in the Senate and the amendment was not passed. As way forward, he emphasised starting the selection process afresh that would precisely mean finding a new consensus nominee.
Two smaller opposition parties in the Senate – MQM and ANP – had opposed the amendment when it was presented in the Upper House that many political observers believed forced the main opposition PPP to budge from its support. The ANP had in fact nominated Justice (r) Ajaml Mian for the slot of CEC.
On the other hand, credible sources in the ruling PML-N insist that the ball was now in the court of opposition as it was not the ruling party and its allies but the faltering opposition that failed to get the amendment through from the Senate.
Currently Justice Nasirul Mulk of the Supreme Court is looking after the Election Commission with additional charge as acting CEC and would not be able to continue with it, as he would be elevated as Chief Justice of Pakistan after the retirement of the incumbent Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani in July.
The government and the opposition will have to come up with some solution soon as the apex court set a deadline for March 19 to appoint the CEC and both the parties are bound to meet the constitutional requirement under Article 213 and cannot delay the appointment unnecessarily as it might leave bad taste for the would be Chief Justice of Pakistan.
PPP central leader and one of the closest confidants of former President Asif Ali Zardari had recommended three names as Leader of Opposition – Justice (r) Baghwandas, Justice (r) Sardar Raza and Justice (r) Rahmat Hussain Jaffri – but eventually consensus had reached between him and the prime minister on the name of Baghwandas.
Although PML-N sources are keeping mum over their next move, some knowledgeable sources believed that the government has already started hunt for new nominee with the addition of two new names i.e. Justice (r) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Justice (r) Javed Iqbal as suitable candidates for the CEC slot.
Sources were of the view that government after completing the formalities would communicate the names to Khurshid Shah to make it a consensus decision of all the parliamentary parties both in the National Assembly and the Senate.
The slot of CEC remains vacant since resignation of Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim on July 31 after overseeing the general elections this year who was appointed with consensus of the government and the then opposition PML-N.
As per the constitutional requirement, the final notification of appointment of the CEC has to be made by the President of Pakistan after completion of selection process by the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly.
The procedure laid down for appointment of CEC in the constitution suggests that no person shall be appointed to be Commissioner unless he is, or has been, a Judge of the Supreme Court or is, or has been, a Judge of a High Court and is qualified under Paragraph (a) of Clause (2) of Article 177 to be appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court.
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. The committee to be constituted by the Speaker shall comprise fifty percent members from the treasury benches and rest from the opposition, based on their strength in the parliament.
In case there is no consensus between the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, each shall forward separate lists to the parliamentary committee for consideration which may confirm any one name. Provided further that the total strength of the parliamentary committee shall be 12 members out of which one-third shall be from the Senate.