THE two gentlemen who arrived at the ECP headquarters on Friday hoping to be sworn in as members of the election commission should have known better.
With all due respect to his office, President Arif Alvi should have been better advised and more careful in his reading of the law before nominating the two to ECP vacancies a day earlier.
Read: President Alvi appoints two new ECP members, invites opposition’s ire
Prior to that, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government must have realised the unconstitutional nature of their step; so why did they choose to ignore both law and procedure, and try and push through candidates of their choice?
Such a move will only tarnish the reputation of the electoral body that must be seen as fair and independent at all times.
In the end, they left the chief election commissioner, retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza, with only one option: refusal to administer the oath of office to the ‘new appointees’.
The CEC quoted a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, which reminds the president that he cannot appoint ECP members — or for that matter the CEC — at his discretion (and without fulfilling certain criteria).
In a letter to the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, Justice Raza “made it clear that he would not administer oath to the ‘unconstitutionally’ appointed members”.
There is no ambiguity in the procedure for the selection of an ECP member.
After two members retired in January, under the Constitution, the process of replacing them must begin with consultations between the prime minister and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. That condition was never met amid criticism by both sides. This spoke volumes for their inability to rise above petty issues and fulfil national obligations. Justifiably, much of the blame was placed at the government’s door as it is the prime minister’s responsibility to initiate consultations with the leader of the opposition. This was not done, even though the National Assembly had done its job of constituting a parliamentary committee as required by the law.
Under the law, the prime minster and the opposition leader are supposed to discuss and then send three names they have agreed upon to the committee for further action. In case there is no agreement, the prime minister and the opposition leader must send three names each to the parliamentary committee.
Notwithstanding parliament’s long experience of such joint deliberations, the scheme was perhaps considered too cumbersome by a ‘new’ party that has made little effort to hide its contempt for past collective endeavours to improve the democratic system. Instead, it chose the deceptively easy path of arbitrary nomination, and in the bargain, opened another front with the opposition.
The alarming part is that the government has done all this knowingly. It appears to be purposefully moving towards a showdown with the opposition over certain provisions of the Constitution. This is a dangerous course and must be avoided.
IT is by now sufficiently obvious that rumours of Pakistan having been ‘blacklisted’ by the regional affiliate of the Financial Action Task Force was malicious fake news, floated initially by the Press Trust of India. From there, the word was amplified by prominent Indian journalists on social media, and it then echoed large in various other Indian news outlets. The news was deliberately angled to make the real outcome of the meeting appear to be something that it was not. The language used by the Indian media was that Pakistan was placed on an ‘enhanced blacklist’ by the Asia Pacific Group, the regional affiliate of FATF, whereas the reality was that Pakistan had been placed in a category called ‘enhanced follow up’. The word ‘blacklist’ was added to warp the meaning of the story into something altogether different. In fact, the APG does not maintain any ‘blacklist’, and FATF is not scheduled to make any decision on Pakistan until October.
In the meantime, the rumour spread like wildfire in Pakistan. The stock market, which had seen a bull run for four days, opened on a positive note on Friday, but then took steep losses right after the ‘blacklisting’ story broke. Market players confirmed that investor anxiety about a possible blacklisting was behind the declines. By the close of trade, a weeklong bull run had ended, with the market falling by 534 points. The government was slow in responding, given the speed with which the rumour spread. The first word we heard from the finance ministry came around 12:45pm, when a short, single-line ticker was released for TV channels denying the news. That had no effect. Less than an hour later, local media outlets began uploading the correct version of the story based on their own reporting, again to little effect. A more detailed contradiction was issued by the finance ministry shortly after 2pm, which too had little effect till the day’s end. It is worth asking now why investors and the wider public in Pakistan no longer know whether or not to believe what the government and the local media tell them. The current atmosphere of censorship has created a gulf between Pakistani institutions — both the media and government — and their audience, in a way that the country has become vulnerable to fake news attacks originating from outside. Restoring this trust and credibility between the government and media is now key to thwarting a similar episode.