Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Nov 26, 2014

CEC conundrum Finally running out of patience with the much delayed process of appointing a regular Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday refused to give any more extensions to agree on the matter. The SC bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Nasirul Mulk only acceded to Attorney General (AG) Salman Butt’s plea on the circumstance that Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif was in Kathmandu for the SAARC summit and the Leader of the Opposition, Syed Khursheed Shah, was in London for medical treatment by giving the authorities till December 1 to complete the task. The PM and the Leader of the Opposition are the two constitutional consultees in the matter. They are expected to agree on names to be forwarded to the parliamentary committee that endorses one of the nominees for the post. Failure to meet the last and final deadline of December 1, the CJP observed, would result in the acting CEC, Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali of the SC, being withdrawn on December 5. The court said notices could be issued to the PM and Leader of the Opposition to explain their failure to comply with the court’s orders. Some legal circles were of the view that such notices could be issued under contempt of court. The court was obviously displeased by the apathy shown by the politicians despite repeated instructions. The AG had told the court that the two consultees had considered the names of some former CJPs and SC judges for the CEC’s slot, including former CJP Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, Justice (retd) Rana Bhagwandas and Justice (retd) Tariq Pervez, but could not finalise any name because of the strong opposition by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Justices Jillani and Bhagwandas refused nomination and Justice Pervez was left by the wayside in the aftermath of this development. All this failed to cut any ice with the bench, however, given that earlier deadlines had come and gone without the process of appointment advancing even an inch. So much so, the SC on November 13 had warned of withdrawing the acting CEC by November 24, but that deadline too was not met. Only the PM’s absence persuaded the court to extend the deadline by one week for the last time. It is pertinent to remind ourselves that there has been no regular CEC appointed since the last incumbent, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, resigned on July 31, 2013. There have been three acting CECs since then. Even if the PTI’s obstructionist role is taken into account, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the courts’ orders are not being followed in this and other instances. For example, the local bodies polls issue, which forms part of this case, has yet to see the light of day despite several hearings and orders of the SC. Similarly, the SC’s directive to set up a minorities commission for their safety, especially in the light of the Kot Radha Kishan incident of the burning to death of a Christian couple at a brick kiln, has yet to see any movement towards implementation. One could therefore understand the bench’s obvious ire and impatience with what has become almost a pattern of dissembling and ignoring the courts’ orders by the executive in particular, and politicians in general. Those who shout about democracy day and night must also be aware that in our triarchical division of constitutional powers, the judiciary is the third pillar of state. Ignoring its advice, suggestions, let alone explicit orders, is not less than flying in the face of the constitution itself. Only when the political class shows the proper respect to the judiciary in line with its constitutional obligations will all other institutions and citizens learn to respect the judiciary and, by extension, constitutionalism and democracy. Reports say the PM and the Leader of the Opposition have spoken on the telephone about fresh names for the CEC’s post before the former left for Kathmandu. They are expected to meet on Friday for finalising the names. The hope is that the constitutional consultees will rise to the occasion and their responsibilities and ensure the process is completed. If they fail to do so, the withdrawal of the current acting CEC will result in a vacuum since the CEC is a constitutional post. It will also have the effect of paralysing the Election Commission of Pakistan, which cannot function without a CEC. All in all, the writing on the wall is clear. Hopefully the consultees too will have got the message.

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