The President on Wednesday appointed Navin Chawla as the next Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), who will take over after first phase of Lok Sabha elections on April 16. Chawla will become the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) on April 20, when the present CEC retires.
The Rashtrapati Bhawan announcement put an end to the speculation on Chawla’s future, whose name has been surrounded in controversies, and even faced demands for removal following the present CEC’s recommendation to sack him.
“The President has approved the appointment of Navin Chawla as the Chief Election Commissioner with effect from April 20 on completion of the tenure of N Gopalaswami,” a Rashtrapati Bhavan statement said.
The issue of Chawla’s continuation as Election Commissioner was hotly debated since CEC Gopalaswami recommended his removal in January and cited 12 reasons to prove that he was not “politically neutral.”
The UPA government snubbed Gopalaswami, and emboldened by the isolation of the BJP on the issue, which was the only party to have demanded Chawla’s sacking, went ahead with his appointment as the poll panel’s new boss.
Sixty three year-old former bureaucrat, Chawla, who is next in seniority to Gopalaswami would hold the office for 13 months. He is due to retire on July 29 next year.
He would be in charge of the Lok Sabha elections for four phases. The first phase of voting takes place on April 16, when Gopalaswami would be in office. The next rounds of voting on April 23, 30, May 7 and 13 would be supervised by Chawla.
The government would have to appoint a new Election Commissioner also before April 20, to fill the third vacancy in the commission, following Gopalaswami’s retirement.
The clearance for Chawla’s name came on a day when a petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking his removal. It would be heard on March 20.
The BJP reacted strongly to his elevation. “The same ruling Congress that benefited from his political bias gave him a clean chit and now elevated him, ignoring the baggage of charges he carries. We will watch his conduct,” party general secretary Arun Jaitley said.