ISLAMABAD: In a move seen by critics of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government as a clear act of defiance, two federal ministers facing allegations of committing contempt of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) have been inducted into a reconstituted parliamentary panel on appointment of ECP members.
According to sources, under the changes made in the composition of the committee constituted for the purpose, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has replaced Minister for Education and Special Training Shafqat Mehmood and Senator Azam Swati has been appointed in place of Senator Hidayat Ullah.
Some other changes have also been made in the committee after legal objections were raised by the opposition parties over “unilateral nominations” made by the Senate’s acting chairman for the committee.
Another change in the committee is the replacement of Senator Muhammad Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party (NP) with Senator Manzoor Ahmad Kakar of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).
Similarly, Senator Kamil Ali Agha of the PML-Q has been replaced by Azam Nazir Tarar of the PML-N while Senator Taj Haider of the PPP has replaced Khalida Ateeb of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
Reconstitution of committee following opposition leaders’ objections leads to yet another controversy
Commenting on the induction of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Railways Minister Azam Swati into the committee, an opposition lawmaker said the inclusion of the two alleged contemnors of the ECP in the said panel was beyond comprehension.
“On the one hand the prime minister refuses to consult the main opposition leader on the appointment of chairman of the anti-graft watchdog on the plea that he is facing graft cases but, on the other, he not only asks lawmakers to support the two ministers who used contemptuous remarks against the ECP and its chief and are facing a probe, but also brings them to the panel which is supposed to decide on appointment of two ECP members,” said the legislator.
He was of the opinion that it was an inappropriate step that shows government’s intention to remain in confrontational mode with the ECP.
The committee on appointment of two ECP members was reconstituted after opposition parties called into question the “unilateral nominations” from the Senate made by its acting chairman Mirza Muhammad Afridi.
Sources said the matter had been raised by members of the opposition’s steering committee with National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser on Thursday.
Earlier this month, PPP’s parliamentary leader in the Senate Senator Sherry Rehman had written a letter to the speaker, pointing out that as per the Constitution, and established practice, all the nominations for the committees were made by the parliamentary leaders of both the houses of parliament.
“I am sure you will agree that it is incumbent that Article 213 of the Section (2B) of part VIII of the Constitution of Pakistan is followed in all such procedures,” her letter said.
The clause says: “The Parliamentary Committee to be constituted by the Speaker shall comprise 50 per cent members from the Treasury Benches and 50 per cent from the Opposition Parties, based on their strength in Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament), to be nominated by the respective Parliamentary Leaders.”
Ms Rehman said that as parliamentary leader she had not been asked for her party’s’ nomination.
She said the acting chairman himself nominated members to the parliamentary committee, which act was violative of the provisions of the Constitution. “The majority parties in the Senate were not told to give names, only informed, which is against the Constitution. Any unilateral appointment to the said committee is illegal, ultra vires and against parliamentary norms,” her letter said.
Another opposition lawmaker also said that neither the chairman nor the speaker had any role in choosing or nominating members to the committee. Its composition is protected by the Constitution as is the procedure for nominations.
“These come directly from the parliamentary leaders of the majority parties, which they had initially tried to sidestep,” he said.
Answering a question, he said the appointment of Mr Chaudhry and Mr Swati would make no difference as the total number of members from the treasury and the opposition would remain unchanged.
He, however, said a negative message had been put across by including the two on the panel — one of whom had threatened to set ablaze the ECP building and the other not only went to the extent of calling the Chief Election Commissioner a mouthpiece of the opposition, but also tried to divide the ECP by prodding the commission’s members to review the CEC’s decisions.
Meanwhile, the reconstituted parliamentary committee on the appointment of ECP members will meet here on Monday to consider the nominations for ECP members from Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The two ECP members from Punjab and KP — Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi and Irshad Qaiser — retired on July 26 after completing their five-year constitutional term and the legal deadline for appointment of their successors expired on September 9.
The prime minister has already proposed the names of Ahsan Mahboob, former officer of the Police Service of Pakistan; Advocate Raja Amer Khan of the Supreme Court; and Dr Syed Pervaiz Abbas, a former officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS), for the vacant post of ECP member from Punjab.
For the appointment of ECP member from KP, the premier has suggested the names of retired Justice Ikramullah Khan, former PAS officer Faridullah Khan and Advocate Muzammil Khan of the Supreme Court.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and president of the PML-N Shehbaz Sharif has proposed six names for ECP member from Punjab and three from KP.
The names of retired Justice Tariq Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Javed Anwar, retired Justice Mushtaq Ahmed, Khalid Masood Chaudhry, Irfan Qadir and Irfan Ali have been proposed for ECP member from Punjab, whereas Syed Afsar Shah, Sardar Hussain Shah and Sohail Altaf have been nominated for the post of ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.