ISLAMABAD: In the face of multi-pronged challenges, the ruling coalition moved a strong resolution in the National Assembly on Friday asking state institutions to strictly act within constitutional “limits” while voicing “full confidence and trust” in the country’s political leadership, but put off a vote until on Monday in search of endorsement from a hesitant opposition.
The resolution, which also calls for adherence to “the basic constitutional principle of trichotomy of powers” — in which parliament is regarded sovereign and above the executive and judiciary — came amid a hot guessing game gripping Pakistan for several days and government worries about the Supreme Court’s handling of some cases that seem to seek undermining government leadership and perceived differences with military leadership.
Before the five-paragraph English draft was moved by the chief of government-allied Awami National Party Asfandyar Wali, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told a tense house that it was being done in response to worries expressed within the country and in the world at large about “what is happening in Pakistan” and not to seek support in court cases or protection against any perceived military threat or to ignite a confrontation between state institutions.
“What else can be a more important issue than this over which the National Assembly should be taken into confidence,” Mr Gilani said about the prevailing situation, in which critics have raised questions about the political future of present government and the democratic system, with some freewheeling sections of the electronic media making wild guesses on a daily basis.
The opposition leader initially said no such resolution was needed, but later agreed to consider on Monday what he called the “just-received” draft, prompting an assurance from the prime minister that the coalition did not want to bulldoze the move by dint of its two-thirds majority in the 342-seat lower house and rather wanted to “take opposition along”.
The decision to bring such a resolution was taken in a joint meeting of parliamentary groups of coalition parties on Thursday.
There were even some last-minute consultations among coalition partners inside the house with the ANP chief and PPP chief whip Khursheed Ahmad Shah seen huddled with the prime minister, and Mr Shah also having a word with the opposition leader before handing copies of the resolution to party leaders and opposition leader making a left-handed gesture of apparent disagreement before interrupting proceedings to question the necessity of calling an emergency session and saying the opposition was against using the house for advancing “any kind of personal agenda or political agenda”.
In his speech, the prime minister rejected speculation over the past some days that he would seek a confidence vote from the house, saying he did not need it because he got a unanimous confidence vote at the beginning of his tenure in March 2008 and continued to enjoy majority support in the house, and advised those who might not have the patience for a five-year prime ministerial term to bring a constitutional amendment to curtail it.
Responding to Chaudhry Nisar’s objection to calling an emergency session of the house only five days after the previous one ended, Mr Gilani asked: “If conditions are such, then who should take a decision?”
To justify the coalition move, he recalled that even 17 Supreme Court judges got together on October 15, 2010, in response to “disinformation” spread then that he was going to cancel his earlier notification for the restoration of judges sacked in Nov 2007 by then President Pervez Musharraf and asked for a written commitment by him that it would not be done.
But he said he told the judges to “trust my word” that he was not contemplating any such move, to which he said was still sticking.
To support his view that politicians too should join forces against any threat to democracy, he said “even crows get together when in trouble”, to which Chaudhry Nisar later retorted rather impolitely: “We are not crows, so we will not gather around you?” – and then asked if there were any crows on the government side.
However, in one of his three interjections, the opposition leader tempered his criticism of the government with repeated assurances that his Pakistan Muslim League-N party would never support a undemocratic step to change the government, calling the two sides as “national allies of each other for the sake of democracy and this house” and said: “Not for a second we in the PML-N have looked outside this house (for support). This democratic system is strong. We will not support any undemocratic step.”
“It is very hot outside,” PPP chief whip Khursheed Shah, who is also the religious affairs minister, remarked in describing the heat of the prevailing situation -- amid freezing cold in Islamabad -- when he responded to Chaudhry Nisar’s speech in the beginning of exchanges, and told the opposition leader that the coalition was actually following his oft-repeated advice to bring important issues before parliament.
He acknowledged that governments could commit mistakes and said it was the responsibility of opposition to identity them.
RESOLUTION: Here is the text of the resolution moved in the National Assembly on Friday:
“This house believes that the present democratic dispensation, which is about to complete four years, came into being as a result of great sacrifices rendered by the people of Pakistan.
“This house reiterates the belief of the democratic forces that the future of Pakistan and well being of its people lies in the continuation and strengthening of democratic institutions and constitutionalism for the resolution of national issues, strengthening of the federation and empowering the people of Pakistan.
"This house believes that for the furtherance of democracy and democratic institutions the basic constitutional principle of trichotomy of powers must be fully respected and adhered to and all state institutions must strictly function within the limits imposed on them by the constitution."
"This house reiterates that sovereignty lies with the people of Pakistan and the parliament is the repository of the collective wisdom of the people."
"This house endorses and supports the efforts made by the political leadership for strengthening democracy and reposes full confidence and trust in them."