Home Digital Magazine Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister: Who & How?

Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister: Who & How?

The tenure of the present National Assembly will expire on May 31st, which implies that the government and opposition have to agree on a candidate to head the caretaker set-up, by the given date.

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Kanwar M Dilshad |

The formal process of choosing the caretaker prime minister kicked off in mid-April, following a meeting between the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and the National Assembly opposition leader, Khursheed Shah, in which, the names of potential candidates were reportedly discussed.

A source, in the PML-N, who enjoys the close association with Prime Minister Abbasi, said that the Premier during the meeting stressed upon reaching an urgent consensus on choosing a candidate as the caretaker PM. He asserted that the political parties should not leave space for ‘other institutions’ to intervene (in case elected representatives fail to reach an agreement). However irrespective of his fears, the process itself is a complex labyrinthine that lends itself to many tricks, turns and adjustments.

The tenure of the present National Assembly will expire on May 31st, which implies that the government and opposition have to agree on a candidate to head the caretaker set-up, by the given date. The names of the former Chief Justices of Pakistan – including Nasirul Mulk, Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Jawad S. Khawaja, and Mian Shakirullah Jan were discussed. Apart from these erstwhile members of superior judiciary both sides, also, discussed other names including that of the former State Bank governors, Dr. Shamshad Akhtar and Dr. Ishrat Hussain.

Putting all this together, it creates a complex situation; even if the government and opposition, in the center, reach an agreement on the caretaker PM it is not clear if consensus will be easy for the caretaker CMs in the provinces.

The thinking that emits out of TV screens is that given Pakistan’s precarious economy some financial wizards at the helm of affairs – even for a short period – may set a direction for recovery. If we are lucky, then a name will emerge by the time you read these lines; however, this may be asking for too much. Khurshid Shah, the opposition leader, had requested that government be dissolved one day earlier to allow full 90 days for the election as per a constitutional provision, however, this was rejected by PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Political analysts and media commentators think that PMLN government fear that a longer time period (90 days instead of 60) will further reduce their influence on provincial bureaucracies they have left in place. So PMLN wants to hold on to power till the very end, ie: 31st May. Under the law, the election date is announced by the President after consultation with the Election Commission of Pakistan(ECP); interestingly both the Constitution as well as Election Act 2017 do not talk of any role for the caretaker PM in deciding the date of the polls.

Read more: PTI nominates names for Caretaker PM

This may be in deference to ECP’s understanding and thus monopoly on logistical matters – because when push comes to shove, its ECP and its bureaucracy, spread all across a country of 200 million, that has to manage the show. But given the straight jacket of 60 days, 26th, 28th and 29th July appear to be the three most likely dates for the 2018 General Elections. If the PM in his capacity as leader of the house, and the opposition leader in the National Assembly (NA), fail to agree on selecting the caretaker PM, the matter – as per the Constitution – would land before the NA speaker.

The NA speaker (Ayyaz Sadiq, a close trusted ally of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif) will then go on to form an eight-member parliamentary committee consisting of equal numbers of MNAs and Senators from both treasury and opposition to pick a candidate as the caretaker PM. In case, a consensus is still not reached, the ECP would appoint a candidate as the caretaker PM – as it did in 2013, when it nominated Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, after the government and opposition failed to agree on a candidate.

A source, in the PML-N, who enjoys the close association with Prime Minister Abbasi, said that the Premier during the meeting stressed upon reaching an urgent consensus on choosing a candidate as the caretaker PM.

The sad fact is that Khoso, then almost 84, was seen as a lame duck, dysfunctional head of a 14-member interim cabinet that presided over an election (13 May 2013) marred by serious irregularities and complaints of rigging – that lead to continuous agitation by opposition party, PTI, on streets and in courts – is a humbling thought about the role of interim set up. The public debate that emerged after the 2013 election revealed that interim setups in provinces were very much in control of the two main parties (PMLN & PPP) that had ruled those provinces – Punjab & Sindh – since 2008. Interestingly both parties either retained control of their overwhelming majorities or increased them in their respective provinces in 2013.

Anyway, the way it works is that the leaders of the house and the opposition in the National Assembly have time until May 31st, to finalize the candidate for caretaker Prime Minister. If they fail to do so, the parliamentary committee that is to be established by the NA speaker, (Ayyaz Sadiq of PMLN) would be obligated to make a choice within 48 hours, no later than June 2nd. In case the committee also fails to come up with a name for caretaker PM, the ECP would be given another 48 hours to appoint the caretaker PM, not later than June 4th. The entire process cannot linger beyond June 4th. Constitutionally, the caretaker PM has to be finalized by the government and opposition within this time frame.

Read more: Electoral Reforms: The only way forward for sustainable ‘Peace & Governance’

It would not be surprising if Abbasi and Shah easily agree on the caretaker premier. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), barring occasional public posturing, has acted as a friendly opposition to the government since 2013. Political analysts believe that PPP will not create problems for the PML-N, as far as appointing the caretaker PM is concerned. PML-N sources say that the party would adopt a ‘flexible’ approach to reach an agreement, for appointing the caretaker PM, with mutual consensus instead of allowing the ECP to make the final pick. However, it will take some time and several rounds of hurdles, before we reach an agreement.

In case, a consensus is still not reached, the ECP would appoint a candidate as the caretaker PM – as it did in 2013, when it nominated Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, after the government and opposition failed to agree on a candidate.

While, the process is similar in the provinces, to the extent that leaders of the treasury and the opposition will have to agree on caretaker Chief ministers but what makes it interesting is the juxtaposition of different political parties in different regions. In Punjab, the leader of the house (chief minister) belongs to the PML-N, and the opposition leader belongs to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf; in Sindh its PPP versus MQM-P, and in KPK its PTI versus PMLN.

Read more: Prime Minister Imran Khan?

This gets even more confusing in Balochistan where until a few weeks ago PMLN was the ruling party but now the leader of the house, formally, belongs to the PMLQ but states that he is part of an independent bloc and the opposition leader is from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF) which is considered an ally of PMLN in the center.

Putting all this together, it creates a complex situation; even if the government and opposition, in the center, reach an agreement on the caretaker PM it is not clear if consensus will be easy for the caretaker CMs in the provinces. Let’s see how the system resolves these tricky questions – but resolve they must before June 5th, 2018

Kanwar Dilshad is the former Secretary to the Election Commission of Pakistan and worked in the organization for over 30 years. He is currently the chairperson for the National Democratic Foundation. The foundation’s work is to grow and strengthen democracy in Pakistan. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 


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