ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan sticks to his guns on not holding a face to face meeting with Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif for consultations on appointment of two new members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
As a result, an exchange of letters continues unabated between the government and the opposition leader. So far, three missives have been sent by the government side to Shahbaz Sharif, who has responded to two of them while reply to the third one is being drafted.
“We want to wrap up the issue without further delay,” former Speaker and prominent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq told The News.
He said that Shahbaz Sharif’s letter would contain the names, firmed up by all the opposition parties. “We will not be averse to even accepting any good nomination recommended by the prime minister if that comes up to our criterion.”
Ayaz Sadiq said the opposition leader would seek the CVs of the names proposed by Imran Khan because he has only mentioned them without giving their qualifications meriting their appointment.
He said that a committee comprising Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Syed Khursheed Shah, PML-N stalwart Rana Sanaullah and others would recommend the names to be suggested by the opposition leader for nomination as the ECP members.
The former speaker said the opposition is not keen for a meeting between Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Khan if, without it, the process of nominating the two ECP members can be carried out in a legal and constitutional fashion.
He believed that it appears from the latest communication that Imran Khan realised that the previous way of consultations was not appropriate or sanctioned by the Constitution.
Ayaz Sadiq said that a 2011 judgment of the Supreme Court ruled while setting the parameters that there should be meaningful consultations between the prime minister and opposition leader, and all this should be brought in writing.
“In our advisory committee meeting on Wednesday, we deliberated upon the latest letter of the prime minister under his own signatures, and felt that it is also flawed and defective under the famous Supreme Court judgment that prescribes meaningful, result-oriented consultations,” another PML-N stalwart Ahsan Iqbal, who attended the session, told The News. “We believed that Imran Khan was evasive to hold the mandatory consultations.”
He said it was required under the case law as well as the Constitution that there must be mutual discussions between the two consulters on the merits and demerits of the nominees under discussion.
To avoid a physical session with the opposition leader, the prime minister, in the fresh letter to Shahbaz Sharif, has stressed, citing the case law and a Quranic verse, that “the consultations could be and should be done in writing”, and “written consultation is surely preferred”.
His communication marked the third change in his method of communication. First, he authorised Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to write the letter to Shahbaz Sharif, who did so through an additional secretary of the foreign ministry, which was seen as an unusual move involving a senior official of this department.
When this letter was rejected by the opposition leader, Imran Khan wrote another communication to him through his Principal Secretary, which too was dismissed as inconsequential by Shahbaz Sharif. Both times, the director to the opposition leader replied.
For the third time, the prime minister has directly written the letter under his own signatures to the opposition leader, also justifying the two previous notes on the touchstone of the Constitution.
Ahsan Iqbal said that it was clear from the prime minister’s letter that he has recognised that the previous process was constitutionally imperfect and he himself should directly hold consultations with the opposition leader.
Considering the kind of relationship between the ruling coalition and opposition parties, indications are that Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif were unlikely to reach a consensus on the names of the two ECP members if the latter sent the list of his nominees to the former in response of the new letter.
In that case, they will, as required by the Constitution, send their separate lists of choices to a 12-member bipartisan parliamentary committee for holding a hearing and confirming one name each for every ECP vacancy.
Both sides have equal representation in this forum and are therefore unable to defeat each other. They are unexpected to reach any consensus there as well. Consequently, the situation will lead to a deadlock for which the Constitution has no answer or solution. If a stalemate hit, the matter may ultimately land in a superior court for interpretation of the concerned constitutional article. In the past, the two sides, which were obviously different than the present parties, had arrived at an agreement during consultations, discounting a standoff.