Law experts fear delay in selection of caretaker PM

Law experts fear delay in selection of caretaker PM

ISLAMABAD: Constitutional experts fear delay in the selection of caretaker premier if Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan don’t agree on a name.

They argue that if the two sides fail to reach an agreement on the caretaker prime minister someone may seek intervention of the Supreme Court for interpretation of Articles 224 and 224-A of the Constitution.Under the Article 224, after dissolution of the National Assembly the prime minister and the leader of opposition will have three days to conclude their consultations on the caretaker prime minister. In case of an agreement, one name will be sent to the president for appointment. But in case of disagreement, the Article 224-A will come into play.

Under this article, an eight-member parliamentary committee will be constituted by the National Assembly Speaker. It will comprise four members each from the treasury and opposition benches to be nominated by the leaders of the house and the opposition.Here is the catch. The Article 224-A gives both the prime minister and the opposition leader discretionary powers to nominate members for the committee to select caretaker prime minister.The constitutional experts are of the opinion that other parties in parliament can challenge the provision in the Supreme Court if they are not given representation in the committee.

“As far as the legal and constitutional aspect of Article 224-A is concerned, the leaders of the house and the opposition are not bound to consult other parties sitting on treasury and opposition benches,” said S.M. Zafar, a veteran lawmaker and Supreme Court lawyer on constitutional matters. But politically as well as morally, the two leaders are supposed to talk to the heads of political parties in parliament before nominating members for the committee.While the PML-Q and ANP are sitting with the PPP on treasury benches, the JUI-F and MQM are now officially part of the opposition.

Salman Akram Raja, who represented Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan in his petition on the role of ISI in the 1990 general election, said if the MQM, which recently joined the opposition, wasn’t given representation in the parliamentary committee, it could move the court for seeking its right.“The problem with the implementation of Articles 224 and 224-A is that we have no earlier precedent which can be invoked in case of a disagreement between the prime minister and the opposition leader.

And any party not happy with the outcome of these articles can move the court,” he explained. Therefore, he said, the best option for the two sides —PML-N and PPP — was to agree on one name at first stage. Khalid Ranjha, Supreme Court lawyer and former law minister, was of the opinion that if the selection of caretaker prime minister wasn’t finalised at the first stage, the matter would get complicated.

Of course, he said, other parities in parliament, either sitting on opposition or treasury benches, would seek representation in the parliamentary committee. He suggested that the PPP and PML-N should resolve the matter in the first stage, otherwise it could linger on if someone moved the court for further interpretation of the Article 224-A, particularly with regard to nomination for the parliamentary committee.The PML-N has accused the MQM of joining the opposition lately only to influence caretaker set-up at the centre and in Sindh.

Talking to Media, PML-N’s information secretary Senator Mushahidullah Khan said: “After having part of the government for such a long time, we don’t consider the MQM an opposition party and will not consult it for the selection of caretaker prime minister.”On the other hand, Zahid Mehmood, a member of the MQM’s central executive and information committees, said if his party wasn’t consulted by the opposition leader it would register its protest over the nomination of the parliamentary committee. And if needed, he said, other options would also be looked at.

With minimal chances of an agreement between the prime minister and the opposition leader, Speaker Fehmida Mirza had already directed the department concerned of the house to keep itself prepared for meetings of the parliamentary committee, a source in the assembly told Media.The director general media of the National Assembly said the Constitution required the Speaker to formally constitute the committee if the issue of caretaker prime minister came down to the committee level. – Dawn