By Agha Iqrar Haroon
Today, March 25, 2022, the Session of National Assembly was adjourned as expected till March 28 and the motion of vote of no confidence moved by the opposition was not taken by Speaker Asad Qaisar because this is a tradition that the first day of any session can be adjourned after performing dua e maghfrat (prayers for departed souls) for member/members of the National Assembly who died after the end of the last session of the House (National Assembly).
It was expected that Speaker Asad Qaisar will delay voting on Vote of No-confidence for gaining time for his party to secure a majority in the House.
The session that had been adjured till March 28 has over 10 items on agenda including the vote of no confidence. The very important point here is according to the Constitution the Vote of No Confidence can not be put as an agenda item accompanied by other agendas, meaning the Vote of No Confidence must be a single agenda motion in the Lower House (National Assembly). Ironically by disobeying the Constitution, the Speaker accepted agenda of Vote of No Confidence with other over nine agendas as the motion. The Speaker has the right to take up agenda items one by one for further delaying voting No Confidence Motion.
It may be remembered that around 14 members of the ruling PTI have already announced to leave the party therefore sitting Prime Minister Imran Khan has virtually lost the majority of 172 members that is needed to stay as prime minister.
Now the strength of Treasury benches is 166 members instead of 172 that is required for a Member of National Assembly to hold the seat of the Prime Minister but the prime minister will remain working as prime minister unless he will be voted out from the House and voting can be delayed by the Speaker for many days or even for many weeks because he does not care what Constitution says and he has already flouted Constitution by submerging 10 agenda items with Vote of No Confidence Motion and by not calling the session within 14 days after the submission of the requisition for Vote of Confidence because the last date of 14 days was March 21 but Speaker called the session on March 25 and then adjured the session without voting till March 28.
Whatever the result would be of voting, one point is clear the government knows that it has lost the majority and will try to buy maximum days and will delay the session as much as possible.
Political circles are of the view if Speaker would delay the voting then another option that opposition can use is to withdraw the Vote of No Confidence Motion and ask Prime Minister Imran in the House to show the strength of 172 but such a move can be useful only for showing that the country is run by a prime minister who does not enjoy the support of the majority of the members of the House but such move would have no legal course.
This move can be the last option if Speaker refrains from holding the voting process over the motion of No Confidence. In this situation, the prime minister will have to get 172 or the assembly will move to a hung parliament in which the government losses the majority, and this situation can linger on for an indefinite period.
The delay of holding voting has exposed that Treasury benches have lost majority otherwise the Speaker could go for voting on Vote of No Confidence and the government could defeat the motion.
The 1973 Constitutions provide ample powers to Speaker and he can rescue the prime minister at every level if he forgets the Constitutional obligations and it is categorical that he is avoiding to follow Constitution and has already disobeyed the Constitution by not calling the session within 14 days after receiving the requisition of session for Vote of No Confidence. It is possible that Speaker will not follow Article 95 of the Constitution that directs the Speaker:
- A resolution for a vote of no-confidence moved by not less than twenty per centum of the total
membership of the National Assembly may be passed against the Prime Minister by the National Assembly.
- A resolution referred to in clause (1) shall not be voted upon before the expiration of three days, or later than seven days, from the day on which such resolution is moved in the National Assembly.
- A resolution referred to in clause (1) shall not be moved in the National Assembly while the National Assembly is considering demands for grants submitted to it in the Annual Budget Statement.
- If the resolution referred to in clause (1) is passed by a majority of the total membership of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister shall cease to hold office.
It looks that Speaker would not go for voting within seven days which is the maximum time for holding the voting process and that is now April 1, 2022.
There is unconfirmed news that the establishment wants to resolve the crisis and is ready to mediate between the opposition and Prime Minister Imran Khan while maintaining neutrality but opposition circles say that mediation or withdrawal of no-confidence motion against the prime minister is not possible with a commitment from the prime minister for early elections because the opposition does not trust prime minister and his promises. Opposition is of the view that the prime minister has already lost the majority in the House and is gaining time through the Speaker to strengthen his position then why should the opposition go for mediation with a person who is no more worth talking with?
It may be remembered that PTI got 150 seats in the 2018 General Elections of the National Assembly and managed the strength of 189 members in the House through political alliances with different political parties including MQM (Pakistan), PML (Q), BAP, GDA, and others. Apparently, all allied parties are standing with Prime minister Imran Khan. However, nobody knows with whom they would stand on the voting day because they are engaged with opposition as well as with the government. Balochistan National Party (Akhtar Mengal) that had been supporting Prime minister Imran Khan is now openly standing with opposition.
In these circumstances, prime minister Imran Khan is going to announce something big in his March 27 public meeting and PTI circles believe that public meetings will change everything and opposition would lick the dust. PTI circles indicate that prime minister Imran Khan is going to expose the international conspiracy behind the move of opposition to vote him out because PM took an anti-west stance and western powers are injecting resources to replace him—the theory of Regime Change can be the main point of prime minister Khan’s speech on March 27 and then he would ask the establishment to take action against opposition that is working on the direction of anti-Pakistan foreign elements. He would ask the establishment that now it is a moral duty of the establishment to penalize opposition for hatching a conspiracy against the state of Pakistan. After such a situation, the establishment while taking the gravity of the seriousness of a conspiracy against the state of Pakistan can surely take action against the opposition. If such a situation arises, then it would be a clean sweep for PM Imran khan and a complete defeat of the entire opposition for all times to come.
It is also important to understand that PM Khan cannot call emergency in the country or cannot dissolve the National Assembly right now because he is facing a motion of vote of no confidence and rules say that prime minister cannot dissolve Assembly if a vote of no confidence is moved against her or him. Opposition circles say that if they withdraw Vote of No Confidence as per part of any rapprochement with the government, then the prime minister would immediately announce a state of emergency in the country and would suspend democratic rights and also the rights of the judiciary to act freely.
I believe that the role of Speaker Asad Qaisar who has been standing muscularly with his party head (prime minister Khan) would be remembered in parliamentary history. In the hardest time, he is standing with Imran khan and he is the person who is keeping his commitment to keep his party head as prime minister of the country knowingly he has already lost majority in the House.
We remember that former Speaker National Assembly Chaudhry Amir Hussain (in office during 2002-2008) served the former President Gen Musharaf and compromised the chamber of the Speaker several times for pleasing the then President Gen Musharraf. We remember Hussain gave a historic ruling that resignations of 85 Pakistani opposition lawmakers would not affect the Presidential Election and he helped General Musharraf to reelect against rules. His conduct raised serious questions over the powers delegated to the Speaker and politicians promised for reviewing the powers of the Speaker but no political government gave attention to the issue thereafter and now the opposition is crying over the alleged biased conduct of the Speaker Asad Qaisar.
Technically, prime minister Imran Khan is a prime minister because the Speaker is not conducting voting in the House (National Assembly). Speaker is giving maximum time to the prime minister to gain his vote strength in the House.
The government has also moved to Supreme Court to get an explanation/advice over Article 63 -A (clause b). The government wants to de-seat PTI dissident members and is of the view that the Speaker has the right not to count the votes of dissident members but observation coming from Supreme Court on March 25, 2022, indicates that Supreme Court would not allow Speaker to minus vote (refuse to count) of dissident members from counting in Vote of No Confidence against the Prime Minister.
During a hearing on March 25, 2022, the Chief Justice of Supreme Court (SC) Umar Ata Bandial observed that discarding a lawmaker’s vote during no-confidence proceedings is “insulting”. He added that a member of the National Assembly could not be barred from voting.
It is pertinent to mention that Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial is heading a larger bench comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, Justice Munib Akhtar, and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, for hearing a Presidential Reference which sought an interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution, which dealt with the penalty for parliamentarians over defection. The government is also thinking to postpone the voting process till the time the SC gives the verdict over Presidential Reference. PTI circles say that PTI would exploit all possibilities to postpone, suspend or delay the voting process over the Vote of No Confidence.
Opposition and PTI will show their political strengths in their March 27 public meetings. One million or two million attendees in public meetings cannot change the strength of the divide in the House. Are both parties (Opposition and PTI) showing the public strength outside the House for getting some kind of support that can come from outside the Parliament?
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.