Though former CJP Justice (r) Nasirul Mulk has been appointed as the caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan in consequence of a consensus reached between the PML-N and PPP on this matter at the federal level, there is a sort of deadlock over finalizing the names for caretaker provincial chief ministers of most of the provinces in the country. So far, only the caretaker CM Sindh has been appointed by the mutual agreement of PPP and MQM in the province. The matter of selection and appointment of CMs for Punjab and Baluchistan has been referred to the respective provincial parliamentary committees. However, the matter of finalizing the name for caretaker CM KP has gone to the Election Commission of Pakistan as the provincial parliamentary committee had already failed to reach a consensus on this issue. Since the provincial parliamentary committees comprise members from the same political parties, it is very likely that the matter of appointment of CMs for Punjab and Baluchistan would soon be transmitted to the ECP. The failure of the political parties to reach a consensus to appoint caretaker provincial chief ministers just indicates that there is considerable trust deficit among most of the political parties in the country. One just wonders why these political parties couldn’t find any single non-partisan and competent individual to head a caretaker administration in these provinces.
Probably, Pakistan is the only country in the world where general elections are conducted under the supervision of a constitutionally-appointed caretaker administration instead of an outgoing government. The original 1973 Constitution of Pakistan empowered the president and provincial governors to nominate and appoint the caretaker PM and CMs respectively once an assembly completes its constitutional term or is prematurely dissolved. However, after the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution passed by the Parliament in 2012, now a caretaker prime minister or chief minister can only be appointed in consultation with the outgoing leader of the house and leader of the opposition in the Parliament or a provincial assembly. Similarly, under article 224A of the Constitution, a parliamentary committee and the ECP have a role to finalize the name in case these two leaders fail to do so.
When it comes to proposing and finalizing the names of individuals for top caretaker slots, the old political parties like PPP and PML-N have somehow relatively acted responsibly and maturely compared to PTI and other small parliamentary parties. So far, only PPP has appropriately preformed its constitutional duty by playing its due role in appointing caretaker PM and CM Sindh. Similarly, the performance of PML-N is also rather satisfactory. It has also readily appointed caretaker PM in consultation with PPP besides showing a bit flexibility by approving the PTI nominee for caretaker CM Punjab. On the other hand, PTI has been exhibiting a non-serious and immature attitude over this issue. This party is supposed to participate in the selection process of caretaker CM in Punjab and KP province. But this entire selection maneuvering turned out to be a comedy of errors as PTI kept on first proposing and subsequently withdrawing names for these caretaker slots. It floated a number of names for this purpose, ranging from political analysts and business tycoons to retired senior bureaucrats. All of these nominees are known for their pro-PTI credentials. Thus PTI looked more interested in pleasing its loyalists rather than seriously nominating any nonpartisan individual for these important administrative positions.
We have observed the influence of social media on the PTI’s decision-making. It instantly withdrew a number of its nominations when people on social media strongly reacted against these nominations. Nasir Khosa, a senior retired bureaucrat and PTI nominee for caretaker CM Punjab voluntarily stepped down when a smear campaign on social media was launched against him as soon as his name was finalized by both parties. Afraid of this name-and-be-damned development, PTI’s another nominee Nasir Durrani also refused to participate in the race for caretaker CM Punjab. In fact, PTI didn’t do its homework to properly perform this important constitutional duty. It seemed PTI leaders had no adequate knowledge about their own nominees. The leader of the opposition in Punjab assembly Mahmood-ur-Rasheef and PTI’s central leaders have been floating different names for caretaker CM Punjab simultaneously without consulting each other. This fact indicates the lack of coordination and discipline within the party. I wonder how this party will be implementing its recently-announced 100-day plan of extensive reforms in the country if it sweeps the forthcoming general elections as it is just unable to properly, actively and timely nominate an individual for a caretaker position. I guess, PTI would not able to even finalize its team to implement these reforms in its first 100 days in power.
The Constitution of Pakistan provides only the guideline and timeline for selecting and appointing caretaker governments at federal and provincial levels. However, it hardly provides this selection criterion in detail. Therefore, political parties should have devised a reasonable procedure or mechanism to ensure the prompt and smooth selection and appointment of caretaker administrators as soon as an elected government completes its constitutional tenure. For this purpose, they, first of all, should evolve a healthy political culture enabling antagonist politicos to sit together and comfortably discuss and scrutinize the credentials of individuals before finalizing their names to assume these crucial caretaking responsibilities. The outgoing governments should be more responsive and inclined towards the nominations made by the opposition parties to avoid unnecessary controversies. While making their nominations, Political parties should take into consideration the personal personality traits of individuals rather than their political and ideological affiliations. To begin with, an individual must be nonpartisan and impartial. Secondly, he must be honest and a man of integrity. And thirdly, he must be competent and capable enough to effectively discharge his entrusted task.
The primary duty of the caretaker administrations is to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan in the free, fair and transparent conduct of upcoming general elections in the country. A caretaker prime minister is supposed to provide the required financial and human resources to the ECP in addition to act as a bridge between the ECP and provincial administrations. On the other hand, the task of a caretaker provincial chief minister essentially involves the effective deputation and mobilization of the police and local administration to ensure smooth and peaceful conduct of electoral process. He is primarily responsible for ensuring peace and order on the polling day. A politician is inherently unsuitable and incompatible for the appointment on any caretaker position owing to his past political affiliations and potential future political ambitions. A journalist or political analyst can also not perform well as a caretaker administrator on account of having no practical experience of running an administration. Similarly, there is also no point in nominating business tycoons for these crucial caretaker slots.
A former judge of the apex court, preferably an ex-CJP, is indeed a competent and suitable person to be appointed as a caretaker prime minister. However, a senior and capable retired bureaucrat is an appropriate person to head a provincial administration as a caretaker CM. Being the largest province, Punjab province is the most important. The so-called Punjab factor plays an important role in determining who will rule the country next. Unfortunately, the nomination for the slot of caretaker CM Punjab has yet not been finalized due to mistrust between PML-N and PTI. For this slot, PTI has finally suggested the names of two renowned political analysts- Dr. Hasan Askri Rizvi and Ayaz Amir. On the other hand, PML-N has proposed the names of a former judge of the Supreme Court Justice (r) Sair Ali and the former Naval Chief Admiral Zakaullah for caretaker CM Punjab. Since there is no senior bureaucrat in the current panel of nominees, Justice (r) Sair Ali appears to me the best person to be appointed the caretaker CM Punjab. He has earned a good reputation as the judge of Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He has also provisionally headed the PCB. He should not be ignored merely for being a nominee of PML-N.
Amid these caretakers’ controversies, it is really good to see a competent and honest person like Justice (r) Nasirul Mulk as the caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan. We hope he would effectively assist the ECP in holding free and fair polls in the country. Let’s hope one day our political system would be refined and mature enough that general elections could be held under the supervision of an outgoing government rather than an ad hoc interim administration.
The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.