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August 24, 2019

Lawyers inducted as ECP members for first time

Top Story

August 24, 2019

ISLAMABAD: For the first time in the history of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), two lawyers have been appointed as its members, ignoring the nominees of the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and the due constitutional process followed for such nominations.

In the past, retired high court judges had always been chosen as the ECP members. With the exception of Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, the successive chief election commissioner (CEC) had also always been serving or former superior court justices.

Two lawyers – Munir Kakar and Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui – who have now been named as the ECP members to represent Balochistan and Sindh respectively were recommended by Prime Minister Imran Khan to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif during their abortive consultations.

“Since the Constitution allows selection of ‘technocrats’ as ECP members, the lawyers have been considered to have fallen in this category and named,” prominent lawyer Barrister Omar Sajjad told The News.

However, he said the way the appointments have been made was not sanctioned by the Constitution and law because they have to be done in consultations between the prime minister and the opposition leader and as per the subsequent procedure in the absence of consensus between them.

When contacted, former Speaker and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq told The News that they are going to challenge the unconstitutional nominations due to the violation of the Constitution.

Omar Sajjad said that anybody wishing to dispute these selections can approach a high court or even the Supreme Court, seeking their annulment. He referred to Article 218(2), which says anyone to be appointed ECP member shall be a person who has been a high court judge or a senior civil servant or is a technocrat and is not more than 65 years of age.

Omar Sajjad said that as per Article 213(2), a senior civil servant means the one who has served for at least 20 years under federal or a provincial government and has retired in grade-22 or above. A technocrat means a person who is the holder of a degree requiring conclusion of at least 16 years of education, recognized by the Higher Education Commission, and has at least 20 years of experience, including a record of achievements at the national or international level.

He said the two lawyers made ECP members have been treated as technocrats, as defined in this provision, by the government while making their appointments as such. After the two ECP members from Sindh and Balochistan retired in January this year, the prime minister, after an exchange of letters by his aides on his behalf with the opposition leader, achieving no consensus, finally proposed to a bipartisan parliamentary committee, having equal representation of the treasury and opposition parties, the names of former district and sessions judge of Quetta Amanullah Baloch; lawyer Munir Kakar; and businessman and former Balochistan caretaker minister Mir Naveed Jan Baloch for nomination of one of them as ECP member from Balochistan. He had also recommended the names of lawyer Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui; former Sindh High Court (SHC) judge Farrukh Zia Sheikh; and former inspector general of Sindh Iqbal Mehmood for selection of one of them as ECP member from Sindh.

The three names proposed by the opposition leader for picking one of them as ECP member from Balochistan were senior advocate and former Balochistan advocate general Salahuddin Mengal; senior lawyer Shah Mohammad Jatoi; and former advocate general and lawyer Mohammad Rauf Ata. The three names for Sindh included senior lawyer and former president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association Khalid Javed; former SHC judge Abdul Rasool Memon; and former judge of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Noorul Haq Qureshi.

Before that, there was an exchange of at least three letters between the prime minister or his nominees including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and principal secretary Azam Khan, and the leader of the opposition because Imran Khan has been anathematic to seeing the latter face to face while Shahbaz Sharif repeatedly asked for direct consultations as required under the Constitution. When the two sides failed to arrive at an agreement through consultations via written communications avoiding physical contacts, they came out with their own recommendations, which were sent to the parliamentary committee. The forum held three meetings but was unable to reach an accord.

The prime minister’s aide, Naeemul Haq, had then publicly stated that since the Constitution is silent on breaking the deadlock that hit the parliamentary committee’s deliberations, the government has decided to go to the Supreme Court for interpretation of the Constitution to tide over the logjam. The two ECP posts fell vacant in January this year, which were required to be filled up within forty-five days.

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