The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid have launched a fresh push to bring down the government in the Punjab
he Supreme Court of Pakistan’s interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution has arguably given new strength to the political parties. However, it has also added to uncertainty about the future of the Punjab government, led by Hamza Shahbaz, who was elected chief minister with the support of 25 dissidents from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI).
The SC opinion is likely to affect national politics for years to come. The majority opinion lays down that the vote of any legislator defying his party’s instruction on the four instances mentioned in Article 63-A will not count. The SC has left it to the parliament, however, to decide whether a legislator so de-seated will be ineligible for election ever after.
The opinion has started a great debate and given rise to several new questions. The biggest one is about the no-confidence motions in the future. Casting a crucial vote for selfish considerations has long been seen as a problem. However, the SC advice appears to have made it harder for any legislators responding to the call of their conscience when they see a party leader in the wrong.
The verdict will make it harder for legislators to go against the party leader, but it might also force big compromises. Seeking support of a majority of legislators from smaller parliamentary parties might become the only option open in similar situations. Even with a majority of two/ three votes, a party leader will enjoy dictatorial power because nobody will dare to vote against him.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders, including Imran Khan, have praised the Supreme Court for the opinion. Some of them have also claimed that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz can no longer continue to hold their offices.
The fact is that none of the PTI defectors in the National Assembly needed to vote for Shahbaz Sharif. On the other hand, 25 MPAs from the PTI had voted for Hamza, who could not have been elected chief minister on the first ballot without their support. Some legal experts still believe, however, that the Punjab government is ‘safe’.
Some lawyers have pointed out that the SC opinion will apply to future action and processes but not to votes that have already occurred. Normally, they say, when the SC issues a verdict that will apply to some past matters, it clearly states this in its order.
Another opinion is that Hamza’s election cannot be nullified since the PTI has not challenged it in a court of law. However, the PTI has asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to de-seat its defecting MPAs in the Punjab.
None of the PTI defectors needed to vote for Shahbaz Sharif. On the other hand, Hamza was elected with the support of over two dozen MPAs from the PTI.
The SC verdict clearly states that when a legislator violates the party’s instruction his vote will not be count. However, several PTI members have told the ECP that they did not receive any instructions from the party leaders. Some have said they were never called to a meeting.
Hamza can retain his office even if the PTI dissenters are de-seated. He can be asked to take a vote of confidence and once he fails on that count a fresh election for the CM’s slot will be called. It appears that he will prevail in what remains of the provincial assembly.
PTI stalwart Fawad Chaudhry has claimed that the PTI and its allies have 173 members in the provincial assembly and Hamza enjoys support of 171. However, the arithmetic is suspect at best.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has 161 seats after four of its members became dissidents. It also has the support of seven PPP members, four independents and a member of the Rah-i-Haq Party: 173 in all.
The PTI had 183 members out of which 25 voted for Hamza. Once they are de-seated, it is left with 158 members. The support of 10 PML-Q MPAs takes the number to 168. One independent member has not announced his support for any candidate yet. Of course, this makes the support of independent members crucial. The candidate polling 186 votes can be declared elected on the first ballot.
According to Punjab Assembly rules: if there is only one candidate and he secures the votes of a majority of the total membership of the Assembly, the Speaker shall declare him to have been elected as chief minister; but, in case, he does not secure that majority, all proceedings for the election, including nomination of the candidates, shall commence afresh.
“If no candidate secures the votes of the majority of the total membership of the Assembly in the first poll, the Speaker shall conduct a second poll between the candidates who secure the two highest numbers of votes in the first poll and shall declare the candidate who secures the majority of votes of the members present and voting to have been elected as chief minister.
“Provided that if the number of votes secured by two or more candidates securing the highest number of votes is equal, the Speaker shall hold further polls between them until one of them secures the majority of votes of the members present and voting, and shall declare such candidate to have been elected as the chief minister.”
Though Imran Khan and his PTI have been holding impressive public meeting, the situation is not too disturbing for Hamza who, barring some other development, may continue to be the Punjab chief minister.
The author is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at BukhariMubasher