THE FORMAL PROCESS FOR CHOOSING CARETAKER PRIME MINISTER
Former Federal secretary Election Commission of Pakistan
Chairman National Democratic Foundation
The formal process for choosing caretaker prime minister kicked off on Wednesday following a meeting between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and National Assembly opposition leader Khurshid Shah in which the names of potential candidates were reportedly discussed.
The tenure of the present National Assembly will expire on May 31 which implies that the government and opposition have to agree on a candidate to head the caretaker set-up at the Centre by the given date.
The names of former chief justices of Pakistan including Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk, Justice (retd) Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Justice (retd) Jawad S Khawaja, Justice (retd) Mian Shakirullah Jan and Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk were discussed during meeting between Abbasi and Shah.
Apart from these names, both the sides also discussed other names including that of former State Bank governors Dr Shamshad Akhtar and Dr Ishrat Hussain.
A source in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), who enjoys close association with PM Abbasi, said the premier during the meeting stressed upon reaching consensus on choosing a candidate as caretaker PM, saying the political parties should not leave space for â€˜other institutionsâ€™ to intervene (in case of the elected representatives fail to reach an agreement).
Constitutionally, in case the PM, in his capacity as leader of the house, and the opposition leader in NA fail to agree on caretaker PM, the matter would land before the NA speaker who would form an eight-member parliamentary committee comprising half of the MNAs and half of the senators with two MNAs and senators from treasury and as many from opposition benches to pick a candidate as caretaker PM.
In case of not reaching consensus, the ECP would appoint a candidate as caretaker PM the way it did in 2013 when the polls body nominated Mir Hazar Khan Khoso after the government and opposition failed to agree on a candidate.
The leader of the house and the opposition leader in NA had time till May 31 to finalise caretaker PMâ€™s candidate. If they fail to do so, the parliamentary committee to be established by the NA speaker would be obligated to make a choice within 48 hours, not later than June 2.
If the committee fails to come up with a name for caretaker premier, the ECP would have another 48 hours to appoint caretaker PM, not later than June 4.
â€œThe entire process should not linger beyond June 4. Constitutionally, the caretaker PM has to be finalised by the government and opposition. However, I think there is no harm in â€˜informallyâ€™ consulting the heads of other state institutions like the chef justice and the army chief regarding caretaker PM. It would help adopt an inclusive approach by taking the state institutions in the loop.â€
It would not be surprising if Abbasi and Shah agree on caretaker premier, â€œThe Pakistan Peoples Party has acted as a friendly opposition to the government since 2013. I think the PPP will not create problems for the PML-N as far as appointing caretaker PM is concerned.â€
PML-N sources said the party would adopt a â€˜flexibleâ€™ approach to reach an agreement over appointing caretaker PM with mutual consensus instead of allowing the ECP to make a final pick. It will take some time and several rounds of huddles before we reach an agreement.
Like the Centre, the leader of the house and the opposition leader in NA choose caretaker chief ministers in the respective provinces.
In Punjab, the leader of the house (or the chief minister) belongs to the PML-N and the opposition leader belongs to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
In Sindh, the PPP has its chief minister and the leader of opposition belongs to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan. While in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the leader of the house belongs to the PTI and the opposition leader is from the PML-N
In Balochistan, the leader of the house formally belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (even though he has said that he is part of an independent bloc in the Balochistan Assembly) and the opposition leader is from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl.
â€œThis is a complex situation. Even if the government and opposition reach an agreement on caretaker PM, it is not clear that will they reach consensus for caretaker CMs in the provinces.â€
Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who authored the 48-page verdict handed down to former prime minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supreme leader Nawaz Sharif by a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on April 13, recalled the features of the original Article 62 before the martial law regime of Gen Zia-ul-Haq had introduced changes to it in 1985.
The framers of the original 1973 Constitution did not envisage any Islamic provisions in any of the clauses of Article 62 or 63 to prescribe criterion to become a member of parliament. Amendments were made to the 1973 Constitution, including some meant to supplement the Islamic content of the Constitution, during the regime of Gen Zia-ul-Haq.
According to the verdict, the original Article 62 simply says: â€œA person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of the parliament unless â€“ (a) he is a citizen of Pakistan; (b) he is, in the case of the National Assembly, not less than 25 years of age and is enrolled as a voter in any electoral roll for election to that assembly; (c) he is, in the case of Senate, not less than 33 years of age and is enrolled as a voter in any area in a province or, as the case may be, the Federal Capital or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, from where he seeks membership; and (d) he possesses such other qualifications as may be prescribed by the act of parliament.â€
Similarly, Article 63(1) says: â€œA person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the parliament, if â€” (a) he is of unsound mind and has been so declared by a competent court; or (b) he is an undischarged insolvent; (c) he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state; or (d) he holds any office of profit in the service of Pakistan other than an office declared by law not to disqualify its holder; (e) he is so disqualified by an act of parliament.â€
However, the martial law regime introduced new qualifications and disqualifications for membership of parliament through the Presidentâ€™s Order No 14 of 1985. After insertion of the new provisions, Article 62 reads as such: â€œA person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of the parliament â€¦â€¦â€¦(d) he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic injunctions; (e) he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins; (f) he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and ameen; (g) he has not been convicted for a crime involving moral turpitude or for giving false evidence; (h) he has not, after the establishment of Pakistan worked against the integrity of the country or opposed the ideology of Pakistan.
â€œProvided that the disqualifications specified in paragraphs (d) and (e) shall not apply to a person who is a non-Muslim but such a person shall have good moral reputation.â€
These amendments made by the presidentâ€™s order were affirmed by the parliament through eighth Amendment in 1985.