ISLAMABAD: After a week-long episode of political uncertainty that embroiled Pakistan in a constitutional crisis, the crucial National Assembly session called to vote on the no-confidence motion that could seal the fate of Prime Minister Imran Khan commenced at 10:30 am.
The session is being chaired by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, standing up to speak after the recitation of the Holy Quran, said the “unconstitutional work of the speaker and Imran Khan was deemed wrong” by the apex court.
Paying tribute to the people of the country, Shehbaz said “today this parliament will defeat a selected prime minister”.
“Whatever happened in a hurry is in the past, today you must work constitutionally and according to the SC order,” urged the opposition leader.
The speaker replied that has read the SC order and would work according to the directions of the apex court but will also look into allegations of a ‘foreign conspiracy’.
Shehbaz read a relevant paragraph from the SC order, which stated that the speaker must hold the no-confidence during today’s session before 10:30
“You cannot deviate from this”
In the six-point agenda issued by the National Assembly Secretariat on Friday, voting on the no-confidence motion is on the fourth position. The vote will take place at 10:30am in line with the apex court’s order.
In addition, the agenda includes two calling attention notices, one of which draws the defence minister’s attention to the non-payment of salaries to councillors in the country’s cantonment boards and the other invites the energy minister’s attention regarding the increase in petroleum prices.
Senior opposition leaders, including PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari have reached the parliament.
Shehbaz, speaking briefly to media personnel, said that Imran Khan was more upset about Shehbaz coming into power than he was by getting ousted himself.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, talking to reporters, said the PTI would present its position in the NA session while remaining within the ambit of the Constitution.
The minister claimed that they were ready for any situation, and had taken these steps to be an independent nation and raise the flag of the country. “We believe that the people of Pakistan are with us,” he said.
He informed media personnel that he would present the position of Imran Khan and PTI in the NA and the decision regarding the Foreign Secretary’s briefing would be taken in the lower house session today.
When asked if there would be a vote of no-confidence, Qureshi said it depended on the environment of the National Assembly.
Babar Awan said three words, “Pakistan, Constitution and nation”
PTI MNA Ali Muhammad Khan said that the truth would emerge victorious and that Imran Khan was fighting for Pakistan. “Pakistan’s decisions will be taken in Pakistan, not Washington”.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Aminul Haque stated that obedience to the Constitution and law was a duty, and the Constitution stated that a vote must take place after the no-trust motion.
He added that the PTI’s surprise was revealed in the past and resulted in nothing. “Protest is the right of every democratic party,” he maintained.
Last Sunday, NA Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri had rejected the united opposition’s no-trust motion against the prime minister on the grounds that it was backed by a “foreign country” and thus, the opposition parties had violated Article 5 – loyalty to the state and obedience to the Constitution and law.
However, the ‘constitutional crisis’ was remedied at the Supreme Court which set aside Suri’s ruling and the subsequent dissolution of the lower house of parliament by President Arif Alvi on the premier’s advice in its landmark unanimous ruling on Thursday night after taking a suo moto notice last Sunday.
The 5-0 ruling ordered parliament to reconvene on Saturday (today), no later than 10:30am, saying that the session could not be prorogued without the conclusion of the no-trust motion against PM Imran. “It is declared that the resolution was pending and subsisting at all times and continues to so remain pending and subsisting,” the short order read.
Another ‘surprise’ in store?
Following the top court’s decision, the assembly will take up from where it left off – provided the imperilled prime minister doesn’t pull out a last-minute “surprise” to disrupt the proceedings again. Following a meeting of the federal cabinet on Friday, sources said that the government indicated that it might not easily give up on power as it was still preparing to give tough time to the opposition parties in the assembly.
The PM Imran-led cabinet, which was brought back to life on SC’s order, also decided to form a commission to probe the alleged “foreign conspiracy” behind the no-confidence motion filed against the prime minister by the opposition and reveal the contents of the “threatening letter” to the lawmakers before they begin voting.
It may be mentioned that the previous ‘sleight of hand’ manoeuvring to throw the no-confidence motion by declaring the opposition as “traitors” landed the premier and his party in hot waters as the country’s top court not only declared it unconstitutional but also ruled that it was the government that had blatantly violated the Constitution.
Currently, the joint opposition parties have more lawmakers on their side than the government, especially, after the government allies parted ways with the government. In addition, the opposition parties enjoy the support of roughly two-dozen PTI dissidents.
Soon after Suri had prorogued the session and the treasury members left the assembly hall, the opposition parties had held a symbolic session of the assembly with a total of 197 members sitting on the opposition benches.
Out of the 342-member house, a party or different parties together can form the government if it has the support of 172 or more members on its side. The premier would continue if the opposition fails to produce 172 or more lawmakers in the assembly for any reason.
Seeing the clear majority of the other side last time, the government had disrupted the session, which plunged the country into a political and constitutional crisis. The crisis gripped the country for almost a week after the deputy speaker had blocked the way of voting on the motion. It, however, has now been cleared by the top court.
If PM Khan loses the vote, parliament would continue to function and the lawmakers in the National Assembly will elect a new prime minister to serve until August 2023, after which a general election is due within 60 days. However, the new premier can go for early elections before August 2023.
The Second Schedule of the NA rules defines the procedure for recording votes. Before voting commences, it states, that the NA speaker shall direct that the bells be rung for five minutes to enable members not present in the chamber to be present.
Immediately after the bells stop ringing, all the entrances to the lobby shall be locked and the assembly staff posted at each entrance shall not allow any entry or exit through those entrances until the voting has concluded.
It adds that the Speaker shall then read out the resolution before the Assembly and ask the members who wish to vote in favour of the resolution to pass in single file through the entrance where tellers shall be posted to record the votes. On reaching the desk of the tellers, each member shall, in turn, call out the division number allotted to him under the rules.
The tellers shall then mark off his number on the division list simultaneously calling out the name of the member. In order to ensure that his vote has been properly recorded, the member shall not move off until he has clearly heard the teller call out his name. After a member has recorded his vote, he shall not return to the Chamber until bells are rung under paragraph 3.
When the Speaker finds that all the members who wished to vote have recorded their votes, he shall announce that the voting has concluded. Thereupon the secretary shall cause the division list to be collected, count the recorded votes and present the result of the count to the speaker.
The speaker shall then direct that the bells be rung for two minutes to enable the members to return to the chamber. After the bells stop ringing, the speaker shall announce the result to the assembly.