ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Thursday gave the last opportunity to the federal government to appoint a permanent Chief Election Commissioner by November 24, else the SC judge performing as acting CEC would stand withdrawn.

The court directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to inform it by December 1 whether it would introduce biometric system in one district or the whole province for the LG polls. The advocate generals of Punjab and Sindh were directed to file progress reports, while the deputy attorney general was told to submit the ordinance and the rules for holding the local polls on December 1.

Presently, Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali is performing as acting Chief Election Commissioner. The post of CEC has been lying vacant since July 2013 after the resignation of Justice (r) Fakharuddin G Ibrahim. The Supreme Court in February ordered appointment of a permanent CEC but the matter remained lingering.

Justice Nasirul Mulk directed the government twice – on October 14 and 28 – to appoint the CEC, but so far it has failed to do so on one pretext or the other. The government, after the last SC refrain, said it wanted to take all the political parties on board to develop consensus.

According to Article 213 (2A) of the constitution, consultation is required only between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. If they fail to develop consensus, the Parliamentary Committee of National Assembly selects CEC from the lists provided to it by the PM and the opposition leader.

During the proceeding, Attorney General Salman Butt informed the court that Prime Minister Nawaz and Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah had finalised three names for CEC appointment. Out of them two had excused themselves from accepting the post. The consultation again took place between the PM and the opposition leader but then Premier Nawaz Sharif had to go to China and Germany, while Khursheed Shah went to London for a medical check-up.

He had earlier prayed to the court to grant one month to finalise the name, but his plea was rejected. The court had given until Nov 13 for filling the key position, but now it has extended the deadline until Nov 24, terming it “the last chance”.

Nawaz and Shah considered names of ex-CJP Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, Justice (r) Rana Bhagwandas, Justice (r) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, Justice (r) Mian Ajmal and Justice (r) Tariq Pervaiz, but the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf rejected them and recommended the name of Justice (r) Nasir Aslam Zahid for the CEC slot. Jillani and Bhagwandas excused on the heels of PTI allegations, while consensus could not be developed on the other nominees.

Earlier, the KP additional advocate general informed the court that the provincial government had amended the Local Government Act to introduce biometric system in the LB polls and in that regard many meetings were held between KP government and ECP officials. They developed understanding on many aspects of the issue, he said.

Justice Nasirul Mulk remarked it was the stance of the KP government earlier that the biometric system would be introduced for the LB polls in one district and if it’s successful then it will be implemented province-wide. “Now you are saying the system would be used in the whole Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he said.

The advocate general replied that the provincial government wanted transparency in the LB polls. However, the chief justice remarked it would require more time and money. He asked the AAG to get fresh instructions, saying he seemed to have incomplete information.

Election Commission counsel Akram Sheikh, submitting the report, said that the KP government was insisting on introducing biometric system in the LG elections. He said if the demand is accepted, the LB polls in KP could not be held before September 2015, as the ECP had to purchase machines for biometric system.

Regarding the LG elections in Cantonment areas, the deputy attorney general, representing the federation, said that amended draft bill for the LB polls in the Cantonment Boards was pending with the National Assembly.

The chief justice remarked that the matter had been pending for more than a year, adding if Sindh and Punjab governments could issue ordinances, why the federal government could not do the same. “Let the federal government issue an ordinance in the instant matter,” the court ruled and adjourned the hearing until December 1.