FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 19

The vote of no-confidence and democratic stability

Pakistan is heading for a political crisis of gargantuan proportions as there would possibly be an impasse on the issue of the no-confidence motion submitted by the opposition parties against Prime Minister Imran Khan. There are many constitutional, legal and technical issues related to the motion. The motion was submitted on March 8. According to the Constitution, voting on the motion shall take place within seven working days of its submission. Everyone, including the media and the opposition groups, was anticipating that the voting on the motion would take place on or before March 21. However, it has not happened.

In between, there was an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) foreign ministers conference on March 22 and March 23, which is also the national day of Pakistan, due to which the Speaker did not call the National Assembly session. The opposition parties have alleged that Speaker Asad Qaiser, belonging to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, breached his constitutional oath by not calling the session and putting off the vote of no-confidence. An important technical point was raised by the PTI government and its legal minds. The point was that as the opposition parties had submitted the no-confidence motion to the National Assembly Secretariat and as no session was called, therefore, the motion was of no effect unless it was tabled on the floor of the assembly. As the Speaker called the session on March 25, it means that the no-confidence motion could only be practically taken up in April.

The most important question about the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan is: whether the ruling party members could be allowed to vote in favour of the motion or not? The government has already asked the Supreme Court of Pakistan to guide it on the matter of floor-crossing by the Members of National Assembly. The government was forced to invoke the advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as several of its MNAs rebelled against the party and most likely would vote in favour of the no-confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan. In order to prevent the ruling party Members of National Assembly (MNAs) from voting in favour of the motion, the government is taking every possible measure. In this regard, Prime Minister Imran Khan is holding rallies across the country to garner public support against the opposition. Earlier, it was expected that the voting on the motion would take place on March 27, as the ruling party leaders claimed that those intending to vote in favour of the motion would have to pass through the ruling party’s public gathering. It was basically psychological intimidation by the ruling party to stop its members from going against the party line.

Now the position about the voting of the ruling party or any Member of the National Assembly has become quite clear. That is every member could vote irrespective whether in favour or against the motion and in no way any member could be stopped from voting either through force or legally by the Speaker. However, the most important point in the whole episode regarding voting by MNAs on the motion is that whether the vote of a member against the party policy would be counted or not? The legal fraternity and political parties are divided on the issue. The opposition parties and one section of the legal fraternity contends that the votes of MNAs against their party line could be counted. Only after an MNA votes against their own party that a party head could send a reference against them for violating the party line to the National Assembly Speaker, who could then ask the Election Commission of Pakistan to de-seat the member. The ruling party’s position is antipodal to the opposition. The government and another section of the legal fraternity think that the vote of MNAs cast against the party policy in the motion cannot be counted and the voting is sufficient to disqualify the member according to the constitutional provisions.

Objectively and logically speaking, if floor-crossing, particularly on the matter of the no-confidence motion against the prime minister according to the Article 63 and its various provisions, is not allowed, then how come the vote of a dissenting or rebelling member could be counted? In particular, when the voting could be instrumental in bringing down a legitimate and elected government. Not only is it a matter of sending an elected government packing but also creating political instability of gargantuan portions in the country. Another important aspect of the situation is that if the vote of a rebelling MNA could be counted and only then he or she could be disqualified for committing an act constitutionally forbidden, then what good is this disqualification for?

As the matter of interpretation of the provisions of disqualification and voting of rebelling and floor-crossing MNAs is before the Supreme Court, it would be decided within days before the National Assembly takes up voting on the motion. However, whatever the interpretation of the court, the vote of no-confidence has ostensibly bright chances of success, provided ruling party members are allowed to cross floor and vote in favour of the motion. However, there would be large-scale political, economic, social and psychological consequences of a successful vote of no-confidence. It would legitimise and further reinforce already institutionalized political corruption in the country, which has been eating the roots of democracy. The victim of a successful vote of no-confidence would not only be the PTI or Prime Minister Imran Khan but the country as he and his party may vanish from the political scene but the country cannot afford political instability created through bringing down an elected government by rebelling MNAs.