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Referee ball in PM court
- Three names with law ministry on Lyngdoh successor
T.R. Prasad (top) and
T.S. Krishnamurthy

New Delhi, Jan. 12: Atal Bihari Vajpayee will have no problem appointing a person of his choice chief election commissioner when J.M. Lyngdoh retires in the first week of February as the decision comes under the Prime Minister’s jurisdiction.

“The post of the chief election commissioner is a constitutional one. Under the Constitution, the decision to appoint a person comes under the administrative jurisdiction of the Prime Minister, although the law ministry officially clears the file to be put up to the President for his hand and seal,” a top ministry official said.

This gives Vajpayee the freedom to appoint a person of his choice, irrespective of the “so-called tradition” of promoting the senior-most election commissioner as poll panel chief, sources said.

Ever since speculation on early general elections gained ground, the post of chief election commissioner has figured frequently in conversations in the capital’s political circles. Sources said . Chandrababu Naidu, who had tasted Lyngdoh’s “medicine” when the poll panel chief refused to advance elections in Andhra Pradesh after the chief minister dissolved the Assembly, is believed to be keen that former Union cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad succeeds Lyngdoh.

Prasad, an Andhra cadre administrative officer, is member of the 12th finance commission.

The sources said that of the three files with the law ministry, one is of Prasad’s and another of current election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy.

“The third one is unknown.” After the Prime Minister’s nod, the sources added, law minister Arun Jaitley would clear a file to be sent to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

According to the existing law, an election commissioner or the chief of the commission retires after five years in office or on attaining the age of 65, “whichever is earlier”. Krishnamurthy can continue till May 2005, while the other election commissioner, B.B. Tandon, till June 2006.

“In case of no promotion to either of them, the new chief election commissioner will have his tenure of five years or till he reaches 65,” the sources pointed out. Prasad will complete 65 on July 15, 2006.

Ever since former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao made the commission a multi-member body by appointing G.V.G. Krishnamurthy and M.S. Gill as election commissioners, with T.. Seshan as the panel’s head, the Centre has been “normally” promoting the senior-most member as chief election commissioner.

“However, this is neither a tradition nor a convention and has no statutory value,” the law ministry sources said.

The post of chief election commissioner being a constitutional position, the Prime Minister, they added, approves a name from a panel of names suggested by the law ministry, which, in turn, clears the file of the person chosen to be sent to the President.

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