Committee agrees to clip powers of president

ISLAMABAD: The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms has agreed to abolish presidential powers to appoint the Chief Election Commissioner.

Sources told Dawn that the committee, which has been reviewing the Constitution article-by-article for almost the past five months, in its meeting here on Tuesday discussed articles relating to the appointment of the CEC (Article 214 to 218).

The committee, the sources said, had also agreed to extend the term of office of the CEC from three years to five.

The committee, which met under Senator Raza Rabbani, agreed that appointment of the CEC would be made through a joint parliamentary committee, as envisaged in the Charter of Democracy.

According to clause 27 of the charter, there “shall be an independent, autonomous, and impartial election commission. The prime minister shall in consultation with leader of opposition forward up to three names for each position of chief election commissioner, members of election commission, and secretary to joint parliamentary committee, constituted on the same pattern as for appointment of judges in superior judiciary, through transparent public hearing process. In case of no consensus, both prime minister and leader of opposition shall forward separate lists to the joint parliamentary committee for consideration. Provincial election commissioner shall be appointed on the same pattern by committees of respective provincial assemblies”.

Article 214(1) of the Constitution states: “There shall be a Chief Election Commissioner who shall be appointed by the President (in his discretion).” This clause was inserted through the 8th Amendment during the regime of Gen Ziaul Haq.

The sources said the issue of the ban on becoming prime minister for the third time also came up for discussion during the meeting.

However, majority of the members said that there was no need for a constitutional amendment to do away with the ban imposed by former military ruler Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

It was decided in the meeting that the matter could be resolved through a simpler legislation and it should not be discussed at the committee level.

Talking to a group of reporters after the meeting, Senator Rabbani refused to give any timeframe for finalising the draft package.

Mr Rabbani said that amending the Constitution was a very “complicated matter”, but the committee was working at a fast pace and whatever they had achieved was through consensus. The committee, he said, would meet again on Wednesday.

During an informal chat with reporters, Naveed Qamar criticised the PML-N for threatening to launch a ‘long march’ on the issue of the repeal of the 17th Amendment and said that the announcement of the package would be made in a matter of “days and not months”.

“Constitutional issues can only be resolved through talks and not through long marches,” he said.

Mr Qamar urged all political forces, including the PML-N, to help the government in its efforts to resolve constitutional matters quickly, adding that no one should take credit for it.

Without naming PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, the minister said everybody knew who would benefit from the lifting of embargo on becoming prime minister for the third time.

However, he said, the government was keeping an open mind and taking all democratic forces on board on all issues through consultations.

Ahsan Iqbal, PML-N spokesman and a member of the committee, said his party had been calling for an early repeal of the 17th Amendment, adding that Mr Qamar’s words were welcome and very reassuring.

He denied that his party had threatened to launch a long march over the 17th Amendment, recalling that at a press conference he had only said that his party would adopt the same strategy it had adopted during the movement for the restoration of the judiciary.

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