Editorial: A government adrift

 The parliamentary committee on appointment of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) members has elected Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid as its chairman.

The government has belatedly woken up to the urgency of expediting the process of appointment of four members of the non-functional ECP after its members representing the four provinces retired. It is not as though their impending retirement was not known in advance.

Yet the government, in what seems to have become its functioning style, failed to plan for the transition in a timely fashion. As in so many other instances, the government has fallen into the habit of eleventh hour responses to even tasks that are constitutionally required.

The hiatus in the functioning of the ECP after the four members’ retirement has brought its work to a grinding halt. There was much consternation and anger in Karachi the other day when the oath-taking of mayor and other local bodies representatives was cancelled at the last minute.

The government seems so distracted by the Panama leaks and the illness of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as to resemble a rudderless ship without a firm hand on the tiller. Whether it is security or foreign policy or even domestic political, economic and social issues, the government appears adrift and in purely reactive mode, without much evidence of forethought or forward planning.

To cover up this dysfunction, the government, in the shape of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the Senate, tried to put forward a mea culpa by stating that the government wanted to initiate and complete the appointment process earlier, but the 22nd Constitutional Amendment Bill seeking to broaden the criteria for appointment as members of the ECP beyond its previous confinement to members of the judiciary or individuals qualified to be appointed to the judiciary, could not be passed on the government’s preferred date of May 19 because of a lack of a two-thirds majority required in parliament.

He also expressed his government’s intent to put an electoral reforms package before parliament, for which a draft unified electoral law was almost ready and all election rules and laws were being consolidated for the purpose.

He also stated that the government would send 12 names, three for each province, to the parliamentary committee by Saturday.

Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani found it necessary to observe that the government could have started the process earlier and pointed out that the 22nd Constitutional Amendment Bill was passed by the Senate on June 2 and sent to the President for his assent the same day, but he chose to sit on it for seven days.

Rabbani told the government that its proposed electoral reforms package would have to be brought to parliament in the form of another constitutional amendment.

The rules governing the ECP state that any member slots to be filled have to be done within 45 days of a vacancy. It remains to be seen whether or not the deadline will be met at the present tardy pace.

Articles 213 and 218 lay down the provisions for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and ECP members. They require that the prime minister, in consultation with the leader of the opposition, forward three names for appointment to every vacant post of the ECP to the parliamentary committee.

If there is no consensus between the two sides on the names, they are required to forward separate lists to the committee for consideration, deliberation, and confirmation of one name for each slot.

The government’s performance on this score underlines its inability to deal with either weighty or routine matters in a timely and efficient manner. Given the controversies that dogged the last general election in 2013, it is imperative that a credible ECP, acceptable to and enjoying the confidence of all the parties and the public, be installed so as to make future elections controversy-free.

The democratic system cannot achieve overall credibility unless the first step – free and fair elections whose results are accepted by all stakeholders – becomes the norm.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2016