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Parliamentary panel may pass bill to change CEC eligibility criteria today

Parliamentary panel may pass bill to change CEC eligibility criteria today

ISLAMABAD: The Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms is set to pass on Monday a key constitution amendment bill seeking to change the eligibility criteria for appointment as the chief election commissioner (CEC) and members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The bicameral and bipartisan committee headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is taking up the bill just three weeks before the retirement of four ECP members from the provinces.

Sources said that political parties had reached a consensus on the draft of the bill, according to which besides serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court or a high court, bureaucrats, lawyers and members of civil society would be eligible for appointment as the CEC and ECP members.

At present, only serving or retired judges of the superior judiciary are eligible to be appointed as the CEC and the ECP members.

The current ECP members remained in the spotlight amidst allegations by opposition parties about rigging in the 2013 general elections.

Talking to Dawn, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Law Affairs Barrister Zafarullah Khan expressed the hope that the bill would be passed by the committee on Monday.

He said the law ministry had submitted a new draft with minor changes suggested by members of the committee during its last meeting.

Mr Khan said the government wanted to get the bill passed from parliament as early as possible so that names of new ECP members could be finalised before retirement of incumbent members.

He said since the National Assembly and Senate were in session, it would not be difficult to get the bill passed before May 20, expected to be the last day of the current sessions of the two houses.

The special assistant said the passage of the bill from both the houses during the current sessions was necessary because the next session of parliament would be convened for presentation and passage of the federal budget. During discussion on the federal budget, he said, parliament normally did not take up other legislative business.

He said that after passage of the bill, members from the civil society and “government servants” would also become eligible to be appointed as the CEC and ECP members. He said that during drafting of the bill, the Indian model had been followed.

In reply to a question, he said the remaining process of appointment of ECP members through a parliamentary committee was not being changed.

Zafarullah Khan said the committee had also set the age limit for the CEC and ECP members at 68 years. Currently, he said, there was no age limit.

When contacted, Dr Arif Alvi of the PTI said that there seemed to be no hurdle in the passage of the bill from the committee after development of consensus amongst all the parties.

He said that holding of the elections was the biggest exercise carried out in one day as it involved and mobilised nearly half of the country’s population. The CEC must be a person who should have an experience of management work, he added.

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah had initially suggested that lawyers, bureaucrats or politicians with good repute should also be eligible to become ECP members when he and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif found it difficult to reach a consensus in 2014 on the name of the new CEC due to very limited choices.

Articles 213 and 218 of the Constitution outline the process of the appointment of the CEC and the ECP members, respectively.

The prime minister in consultation with the opposition leader in the National Assembly is required to forward three names each for appointment to every vacant position of ECP member “to a parliamentary committee for hearing and confirmation of any one person”.

In case, there is no consensus between the prime minister and the opposition leader, each of them shall forward separate lists to the parliamentary committee for consideration and confirmation of any one.

“The parliamentary committee to be constituted by the speaker shall comprise fifty per cent members from the treasury benches and fifty per cent from the opposition parties, based on their strength in Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament), to be nominated by the respective parliamentary leaders,” says Article 213(2B) of the Constitution.

The total strength of the committee shall be 12 members, out of which one-third (i.e. four) should be from the Senate.

The previous parliamentary committee which approved the appointment of present CEC retired Justice Sardar Raza Khan in November 2014 was headed by the then senator and now Punjab governor Rafiq Rajwana. The committee stood dissolved after the Senate elections in March last year.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed said last month that his ministry had sent a letter to NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, asking him to constitute the committee as soon as possible because the ECP members were retiring in the second week of June.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2016

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