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March 6, 2021

Today’s NA session against Constitution: Rabbani


March 6, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The requisition of the National Assembly session on Saturday (today) by President Dr Arif Alvi under Article 91(7) of the Constitution requiring Prime Minister Imran Khan to get a vote of confidence has generated a heated debate among the constitutional experts.

Commenting on the development, eminent lawyer and PPP Senator Raza Rabbani told The News that when the president asks the prime minister to go for a confidence vote, he summons the National Assembly on his own and does not do so on the premier’s advice as has been done now.

In the present case, Rabbani said, the prime minister sent the advice to the president to call the National Assembly session for the purpose, which runs counter to the Constitution.

Pakistan has a history of having successive presidents, such as General Ziaul Haq, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari, who became extremely hostile to prime ministers Muhammad Khan Junejo, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. They had liberally used the (now abolished) discretionary presidential powers to dissolve assemblies and dismiss governments. But they too had never invoked Article 91(7), requiring prime ministers to seek a fresh confidence vote from the National Assembly.

In the past, no occasion had ever arisen when prime ministers who had the backing of very thin numbers had lost the confidence of the majority of MNAs. This is because past premiers used to have more than the requisite majority standing behind them. This prevented the president from resorting to Article 91(7).

The incumbent president is not only a hardcore PTI cardholder, but also has exceptionally cordial relations with the prime minister. He is unlike most previous presidents who were very antagonistic towards their prime ministers.

Far from being a hostile act, Dr Alvi’s invoking of Article 91(7) has just provided an opportunity to Imran Khan to reassert his majority to ease pressure on him after the defeat of PTI candidate Dr Hafeez Sheikh at the hands of Yusuf Raza Gilani in the Senate election for the Islamabad seat.

Rabbani says the constitutional article that had barred the moving of another no-confidence motion against the prime minister or chief minister six months after the failure of a similar resolution was omitted a long time ago from the Constitution. It means a no-trust motion can be moved any time after the defeat of such a resolution.

Under Article 95, a resolution for a vote of no-confidence can be moved by not less than 20 percent of the total MNAs. However, it cannot be tabled while the National Assembly is considering demands for grants submitted to it in the annual budget. If it is passed by a majority of the total MNAs, the prime minister will cease to hold office.

According to noted lawyer Kashif Malik, who carried out a search from the archives for The News to find out if there had been any such instance pertaining to any prime minister in the past, said there was only one such example but it was related to a chief minister.

Way back in September 1995, the then Punjab Governor Lt-Gen (retd) Raja Saroop had asked Chief Minister Manzoor Wattoo to get a fresh trust vote from the provincial assembly after imposing a state of emergency a day after the issuance of this promulgation under Article 234.

Kashif Malik says Wattoo had challenged the governor’s order in the Lahore High Court. A three-judge bench had quashed the gubernatorial direction ruling that a reasonable amount of time had to be given to the chief minister to get a confidence vote. It had also trashed the presidential rule and reinstated Wattoo as chief minister.

On a couple of occasions, prime ministers had on their own and not on the president’s directive sought a vote of confidence but only in an informal, unofficial manner without quoting or relying on the Constitution or the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly. They had done so just to prove that the majority of MNAs supported him/her even during a serious crisis.

Kashif Malik explained that when the president demands of the prime minister to get a fresh vote of trust, he, under Article 91(7), is ‘satisfied’ that the premier does not command the confidence of the majority of the MNAs.

Another prominent lawyer and senator-elect Kamran Murtaza told The News that after several members showed no confidence in the prime minister during the election for the Islamabad seat of the Senate, Imran Khan should go for a fresh public mandate instead of seeking a trust vote from the lower house of parliament.

He said when the prime minister himself had claimed that 16/17 MNAs and MPs had deserted him in the Senate polls for monetary considerations, he should not seek the votes of those who, according to him, are “rotten eggs”.