A CEC at last

A decision the parliamentary leadership should have made within 16 days took it as many as 16 months, the redeeming feature of the inordinate delay being that at long last the Election Commission of Pakistan finally has its permanent head. The parliamentary committee tasked to pick one out of three jointly proposed by leader of the house Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and leader of opposition Syed Khursheed Shah unanimously confirmed Justice Sardar Raza Khan as the new Chief Election Commissioner. Justice Raza Khan happened to have twice served as the CEC when the regular incumbent was on leave. Presently, he was serving as Chief Justice of the Federal Shariat Court, and earlier he had been a judge of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court. Praised for being independent in his judgements Justice Raza had refused to take oath under the infamous Musharraf-era Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO), and had dissented from judgement in the case about NRO heard by the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. But that said this should be also said that his regular predecessor Justice Fakhruddin G Ebrahim was also fiercely independent. He stepped down in a huff on July 31, 2013 with only a year into his tenure protesting the apex court’s ‘interference’ in the ECP’s domain with regard to changes in the schedule for the presidential election. Justice Raza is not better placed than Justice Fakhruddin – the ECP remains as under-powered as then, because the much-vaunted claims of political leadership on both sides of the national divide to reform the election commission have yet to be redeemed. Isn’t it ironic that the same very political leadership, which jointly passed the 18th Constitutional Amendment replacing the CEC’s primacy as the ‘one above all’ by the ‘first among equals’, has taken good 16 months to evolve consensus on the appointment of a new chief. As amended, in Article 219 for the word “Commissioner” the word “Commission” has been substituted. CEC Fakhruddin had resigned after his colleagues refused to file a review against the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s decision to advance date for the presidential election.

When all major decisions of the ECP are taken by majority vote then all this ado about nothing? But for the Supreme Court’s last warning political squabble over CEC’s appointment must have lingered on. And now when the appointment has been made the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has the cheek to say it was not consulted but only informed – as if it were a constitutional consultee. How come a political party that says it has resigned from the National Assembly, no more sits in the house and has no legal position on the issue should be allowed to derail the entire process of appointing a new CEC? Now that the sad saga of misconceptions and misperceptions about the role of a Chief Election Commissioner is over it is hoped that political stakeholders across the board commit to help Justice Raza Khan effectively deliver on the challenging work already cut out for him. He will be taking up the backlog of last general election, which quite a few insist was neither transparent nor impartial. For him one other challenge is to carry out delimitations for local bodies elections, a task assigned by the Supreme Court. The electoral process in a multi-link chain and this chain cannot be stronger than its weakest link. From preparation of voter lists to the conduct of polling to announcement of final results the transparency of process remains pliable to manipulation. For the election to be free, fair and transparent all the links in the chain must do justice to their responsibilities. Hopefully, the parliamentary committee currently engaged in hammering out a set of electoral reforms will help strengthen the hands of the new CEC who has vowed to reform the Election Commission of Pakistan.

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