Wednesday December 07, 2022

Even with PPP help, govt cannot amend constitution

September 18, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Despite being in a minority in the Senate, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government would not need the help of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or any other opposition party to enact regular legislation.

But there is no threat to the 18th amendment, because the ruling alliance would fall short of the two-thirds majority in the upper house required to amend the constitution, even if the PPP reversed its principled opposition and supported such a move.

“For simple legislation, given its numeric strength in the Senate, if the PTI government, after getting a bill passed from National Assembly, failed to get it passed from the upper house, it can present the same bill in a joint sitting of the Parliament under article 70(3) of the constitution and get it passed with the simple majority of the members present and voting,” constitutional expert Wasim Sajjad told The News.

In the National Assembly, the ruling alliance could secure the support of some 189 members after the October 14 by-elections. The PTI would have 160 members, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) seven, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) would have five each.

The Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) would have four members, the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) three, the Awami Muslim League (AML) two, the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) one, and independents would have two members.

By comparison, the opposition in the National Assembly could have around 153 votes, with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) securing 81 members, the PPP 54, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) 15 and the Awami National Party (ANP) one member, along with two independents.

In the Senate, the government alliance would have 34 votes, including 12 of the PTI, five of the MQM, one each of the BNP-M and Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, and 15 from independents.

The opposition in Senate would have 68 votes, including 32 from the PML-N, 20 from the PPP, six from the MMA, five from the National Party, three from the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, and one each from the ANP and an independent senator.

In a joint sitting of the Parliament, the ruling alliance would have around 223 votes - 189 in the National Assembly plus 34 in the Senate. The opposition, assuming it remains united, would have 221 votes (153 plus 68).

A poor result for the PTI and its allies in the by-elections could change this numbers game, however.

In the recent presidential election, the successful government candidate, Dr Arif Alvi, secured 212 votes, equal to the total votes received by the two competing opposition candidates. After the October 14 by-elections, the ruling alliance may be in a position to obtain a majority for any joint sitting of the Parliament.

However, former Senate chairman Wasim Sajjad it would be difficult for the government to ensure the presence presence of all the treasury bench members and it would face a neck and neck situation in any joint sitting.

On the basis of these numbers, however, the ruling alliance should be in a position to pass regular legislation, but any proposed amendment to the constitution would require the government to prove a two-thirds majority in each of the houses of Parliament.

In the event that such an amendment failed to secure the requisite support in either house, the government would not be able to call a joint sitting of the Parliament because it is not provided for in article 239 of the constitution, Wasim said.

The government would need 228 votes in the National Assembly and 70 votes in the Senate to amend the constitution. At present, the ruling alliance enjoys the support of just 34 senators. Even if the PPP were to opt to support the ruling coalition, the government would be unable to reach the requisite figure of 70 senators.

However, this scenario is purely hypothetical because the PPP prides itself on piloting the 18th amendment, which is considered to be the symbol of the unity of the federation, in 2010. The PPP has clearly stated it would oppose any attempt to repeal it.

The PTI has promised to create a new South Punjab province. Under sub-article 4 of article 239 of the constitution, a bill to amend the boundaries of a province also to be passed by the concerned provincial assembly.

Given the numeric strength of the PTI-led alliance in the Senate and Punjab Assembly, the Imran Khan administration does not have the required numbers to fulfill this crucially important promise.

It would need the complete support of the PML-N in the National Assembly, Senate and the Punjab Assembly. Despite past PML-N promises to support the creation of South Punjab and Bahawalpur provinces, this remains a highly improbable prospect.