ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Imran Khan has written a letter to opposition leader and president of PML-N Shehbaz Sharif asking him to suggest names in writing for the appointment of two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The four-page letter of the Prime Minister comes after lapse of two months as two members of the ECP have already retired. ECP members Abdul Ghaffar Soomro and retired justice Shakeel Baloch from Sindh and Balochistan retired on January 26 and their replacements should, under the Constitution, have been appointed by March 12.

In his letter, the prime minister has rejected all the objections raised by Shehbaz Sharif in his previous letter over the ongoing consultation process through nominees and has also refuted the allegation that the government is in violation of the Constitution causing delay in the finalisation of the names of the ECP members from Balochistan and Sindh.

The Prime Minister has quoted a number of examples from the earlier court decisions and even a Quranic verse from Surah Baqrah in support of his argument that the consultation could be and should be done in writing.

Asks Shehbaz to suggest names for appointment of 2 ECP members

“Written consultation is surely preferred,” writes Imran Khan in the letter. “I again stress your good self to participate in the consultative process by giving your views in writing. In case you do not participate in the consultative process, the people of Pakistan and myself shall have no other option but to presume that you are evading the legal process, in which event further rights shall be reserved,” writes Mr Khan, without further elaboration.

Imran Kahn rejected allegation that the government is violating the Constitution. The Prime Minister defended his act of making nominations first through the foreign minister and then through his secretary. Rejecting Shehbaz Sharif’s objections over Qureshi’s letter, the prime minister said: “no reasons are given as to why the foreign minister’s letter violates the Constitution.” Moreover, he said that since the letter had already been withdrawn and “no longer occupies the field, any reference thereto is absolutely irrelevant now”.

Mr Khan said that the assertion by Shehbaz Sharif that his previous letter “does not adhere to the intent and spirit of the Constitution” was “vague, sweeping and unintelligible”. He maintains that the letter had “recorded verbatim my instructions as the prime minister”.

Mr Khan has claimed that “there is nothing in Article 213(2-A) of the Constitution to suggest as to from which of the two persons specified in the said sub-article, the consultation process has to be imitated”, stating: “you took no steps to initiate any process of consultations”.  In reference to Shehbaz Sharif’s objection regarding change of nominations, the prime minister has stated that “the ethos of any consultative process necessarily implies that the consultee could alter the names of the candidates during consultation”.

“There is no embargo on a consultee to substitute the names forwarded by him previously with fresh names that he may subsequently consider to be more appropriate,” he writes.

“The entire idea of sending you the letter and the present one is to enter into an effective, meaningful, purposive and consensus-oriented process of consultation, leaving no room of complaint of arbitrariness or unfair play,” writes Mr Khan.  The Constitution states that if the PM and the opposition leader do not reach consensus on the names of ECP members, each will forward a separate list to the parliamentary committee to finalise nominees.

Earlier, in response to a letter written to the opposition leader by Prime Minister’s secretary Azam Khan on March 26, Shehbaz Sharif had opposed the prime minister’s act of consulting with him on the appointment of ECP members through nominees and termed the delay in filling the two vacancies a violation of the Constitution.

Shehbaz Sharif, through a letter written by his director Muhib Ali Phulpoto, had also conveyed his reservations over the delay in the appointment of the ECP members due to the apparent reluctance of the prime minister to hold a direct consultation with him. In that letter, he had suggested that three nominations each for the vacant posts of ECP members were against the intent and spirit of the Constitution.

The prime minister has suggested the names of Amanullah Baloch, ex-district and sessions judge, Quetta; Munir Kakar, a lawyer; and Mir Naveed Jan Baloch, a businessman and a former caretaker minister in the provincial government, for their nomination as a member of the ECP from Balochistan.

The prime minister has proposed the names of Khalid Mehmood Siddiqui, a lawyer, retired Justice Farrukh Zia Sheikh, a former judge of the Sindh High Court (SHC), and Iqbal Mehmood, retired inspector-general Sindh, for their nomination as a member of the ECP from Sindh.

The government had to face more criticism when Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi sent the nominations and that too through an additional secretary working in his office. The nominations made by the prime minister were altogether different from those mentioned in the foreign minister’s letter.

Shehbaz Sharif’s letter has also drawn the attention of the prime minister towards a 2011 judgement of the Supreme Court, “which clearly stipulates the parameters for scope and interpretation of the word ‘consultation’ for guidance on the subject issue.”