Bill paves way for appointment of Bhagwandas as CEC

ISLAMABAD: After a pitiably nerve-testing failure for nine months to find a consensus chief election commissioner (CEC), political rivals quickly amended a law in the National Assembly on Friday so they could possibly pick another widely respected retired judge for the job that has traditionally gone to judiciary.


Sources in both the government and opposition said the government bill amending the Federal Public Service Commision (FPSC) Ordinance of 1977 could lead to the appointment of Rana Bhagwandas, a retired Supreme Court Judge and a former FPSC chairman, as a consensus CEC. There has been no formal word from either side while the new bill needs Senate as well to become law to remove an existing hitch to such a course.

The CEC’s office has been occupied by an acting chairman after another respected former Supreme Court judge, Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, resigned immediately after overseeing the May 11 general elections because Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the opposition leader in the National Assembly, Khursheed Ahmed Shah of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), failed to meet a constitutional requirement to agree on a name before a formal appointment by the president.

Mr Bhagwandas was last time the nominee of the previous PPP government for the same job before the elections, but then opposition leader and present interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan disagreed due to the apparent ineligibility of the nominee for having been an FPSC chairman. Like any former member of the commission, he stood ineligible under the 1977 ordinance for “further employment in the service of Pakistan”. The PPP then agreed to Mr Ebrahim’s appointment as opposition nominee.

After prolonged frustrations and opposition criticism against keeping the CEC’s office vacant for so long – along with some other important vacancies – some PML-N doves seemed to have prevailed over hawks to agree to the opposition nominee this time and to a previously disregarded PPP suggestion to bring a bill like this, which says “the president may allow further employment” of a former FPSC member “to a constitutional office in public interest”.

Though no lawmaker mentioned Mr Bhagwandas as the bill was being rushed through the house on the last day of a 12-day spring session, his name seemed to be on everybody’s mind amid media speculations about his likely choice for the job.

One ranking member of the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), Shirin Mazari, went to the extent of branding the bill as “person-specific”, which she said would make it a bad law.

But her lone protest proved short-lived after the Minister for Science and Technology, Zahid Hamid, pointed out that no person had been specified in the two-clause draft.

A statement of objects and reasons of the bill said the aim was to attract “highly qualified and skilled persons” to join the FPSC while the existing ineligibility was “discouraging well qualified persons to join the commission” and served as an impediment to benefiting from their experience “if their further employment is required to a constitutional office in public interest”.

The bill is likely to get an easy sailing through the Senate, possibly during its current session, because of a sure support from the PPP-led opposition, which forms the majority in the 104-seat upper house.

SHAH DISPUTES NISAR: Before National Assembly’s show of consensus on the new bill, opposition leader Khursheed Shah came with some sharp retaliation against Chaudhry Nisar’s frequent criticism of the previous PPP government in his Thursday’s speech in the house while winding up a two-day debate on the government’s internal security policy.

Mr Shah particularly disputed the minister’s statement that a majority of militant groups in the banned umbrella Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – with which the government plans to begin direct peace talks next week — were not anti-Pakistan and that a senior judge who died in Monday’s gun-and-bomb attack on Islamabad’s district courts complex was killed in accidental pistol firing by his own bodyguard.

Mr Shah accused the minister of trying to force the opposition “to the wall” and painting militants killing innocent people as patriots, and repeated his party’s opposition to including army officials in the new government team for dialogue on the ground that the army would get the blame if the talks failed.

He questioned the credibility of the interior minister’s statement that additional district and sessions judge Rafaqat Ahmed Khan Awan was killed by three bullets fired by his bodyguard in panic while the judge and some of his staff had taken shelter in a retiring room bolted from inside. He recalled that witnesses like lawyers had told him during a visit to the site that the attackers had broken the court’s glass door and shot the judge dead.

Mr Shah also disputed the reported police claim that the attack, in which 12 people were killed and 28 wounded, was carried out by only two men who blew themselves up after a shooting spree, and quoted lawyers who met him as saying the attackers numbered eight or nine. Some of them were very young, sported beards and had joggers or ‘chapals’ as their footwear.

THARPARKAR: The house saw angry speeches of PTI members Makhdoom Javed Hashmi and Lal Chand about reported deaths caused by a famine-like situation in the Tharparkar district of Sindh while PPP’s Shazia Marri and Ejaz Jakhrani told the house that their party’s provincial government had already taken notice of the serious situation and was helping the sufferers.

The house unanimously adopted a resolution congratulating female parliamentarians for “actively and substantially performing their legislative, oversight and representative roles” to mark the international women’s day on Saturday.

A call-attention notice from five members from different parties expressed concern over terrorist threats to journalists and their deaths in such attacks, drawing an assurance from the government that a committee constituted by the prime minister was already working to recommend remedial measures.