• President summons NA session tomorrow for vote of confidence
• In address to nation, Imran says he will not spare opposition for looting public wealth

ISLAMABAD: As Presi­dent Dr Arif Alvi has summoned a session of the Nat­ional Assembly for Saturday when Prime Minister Imran Khan will seek a vote of confidence, the premier in his address to the nation lashed out at both the opposition and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for “foul play” in the Senator elections, especially on a seat from Islamabad which the government had lost.

A notification issued by the National Assembly Secretariat on Thursday said: “In exercise of powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 54 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the President has been pleased to summon the National Assembly to meet in the Parliament building Islamabad on Saturday, March 6, 2021 at 12:15 for the purpose of requiring the Prime Minister to obtain the vote of confidence from the National Assembly under Article 91 (7) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”

Members of the National Assembly belonging to the ruling alliance, led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), have been asked to stay in the capital till Saturday when the prime minister will seek vote of confidence that requires at least 172 votes in the 341-member lower house of parliament — by division of members and not by show of hands.

However, a controversy cropped up on the issue of summoning of the NA session for PM Khan’s vote of confidence as the opposition believed that the prime minister could not initiate a summary for the session as it was a sole prerogative of the president. And that the president summons a special session for the PM’s vote of confidence as and when he [the president] believes the prime minister has lost mandate and majority of the lower house of parliament.

The Article 91 (7) of the Constitution also clearly states: “The Prime Minister shall hold office during the pleasure of the President, but the President shall not exercise his powers under this clause unless he is satisfied that the Prime Minister does not command the confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly, in which case he shall summon the National Assembly and require the Prime Minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the Assembly.”

However, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said the president had sought a legal opinion that since the prime minister had initiated the matter and he [the president] believed that the prime minister had majority in the house, the president deemed it appropriate to summon the NA session so that the prime minister could seek a vote of confidence.

He said that now the bar was on the prime minister as he had to get at least 172 votes and if he failed to get the required number, the assemblies could be dissolved.

Asked if the prime minister had directed all MNAs of the ruling coalition to stay in the capital for the next couple of days, the minister said: “Yes, they [MNAs] have been asked to remain in Islamabad and ensure their presence.”

Mr Fawad said that once the prime minister got the vote of confidence from the house, the opposition could not ask him to get another vote of confidence for the next six months.

He said the prime minister would have to get 172 votes from the house by division of members and not by show of hands. Under this procedure, members are asked to cast their vote and leave the house till further announcement by the NA speaker.

Although the total strength of the National Assembly is 342 members, presently it has 340 MNAs as Faisal Vawda has resigned due to a verdict in his dual nationality case issued by the Islamabad High Court and announcement of re-election on Daska seat (NA-175).

Meanwhile, the ECP is meeting on Friday (today) apparently to take notice of the government ministers’ press conference on Wednesday and the prime minister’s address to the nation in which the commission was accused of having failed to hold the Senate polls in a transparent manner.

PM’s address to nation

Prime Minister Khan in his fiery address to the nation on Thursday accused the ECP of protecting those who made money by holding the Senate elections through secret ballot.

“It is important to talk about it and explain it, because the problems in our country can be understood through the kind of election that happened,” he said, adding that “money was used” in the Senate polls, which was not a new phenomenon but going on for the last 30-40 years.

“I am surprised that when you’re spending money, a senator becomes a senator by giving bribes, and on the other side [are] those MPs who are selling their conscience and voting after taking money, then what kind of democracy is this? Since then I started my campaign and I said since then that there should be open ballot.”

In the 2018 Senate elections, Mr Khan said, he came to know that 20 PTI lawmakers had sold their votes after taking money. “We expelled the 20 members, but then I saw that it wasn’t just me saying this, but the two main parties that signed the Charter of Democracy — the PML-N and PPP — had agreed that there should be open ballot because money is exchanged in the Senate elections,” he said, adding that PML-N leaders had later also issued similar statements.

He said the PTI had presented a bill in parliament seeking open ballot for the Senate polls. “Then we saw it wasn’t happening and the parties which had said that there should be open ballot didn’t support us. We then went to the Supreme Court and a whole case was heard in the SC. [During the hearings] judges repeatedly asked about money being exchanged, and during that a video came out of MPs taking money ahead of the 2018 Senate elections, so no one had any doubt,” he added.

The prime minister noted that while the matter was being heard by the apex court, the ECP had opposed open ballot, but the apex court repeatedly said that it was the ECP’s responsibility to conduct honest and transparent elections.

“I want to remind you that their [opposition leaders] corruption cases are old, we didn’t make them; in our time only five per cent cases [have been started], while the rest are all old,” he said, adding that the opposition had since then united to put pressure on the government. “All of them have one interest: to exert so much pressure on me that I raise my hands and, like Gen Musharraf, give them an NRO and end their corruption cases.”

Prime Minister Khan said the opposition had planned to “use money” in the election contest between Yousuf Raza Gilani and Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. “Full effort was to be done to break our members and align them with [the opposition] by giving them money. And if somehow Hafeez Shaikh were to lose that election, what would that prove? That Imran Khan’s majority in parliament has finished,” he said, adding that in such a scenario the opposition’s next step would be to bring a vote of no-confidence.

“So the real objective was to hang the sword of vote of confidence over me and blackmail me into somehow giving them NRO.”

The prime minister asked the ECP why it had not printed barcode on 1,500 ballot papers to ensure fair polls. “You [ECP] have harmed the morality of country. This country was to become an example for others. What message you [ECP] have given to our youth that how much money was used in the election and how our politics has been corrupted,” he regretted.

He said the ECP could have conducted fair elections as it had all the required resources to do so. “All government institutions and agencies were under your [ECP] command, but despite this the whole drama happened in the polls and corrupt ex-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani won Senate seat from Islamabad,” he added.

Prime Minister Khan said he had no fear even if he lost power. “It will not make any difference if I am not in the power. I did not make factories, but I will not spare you [opposition leaders] for looting public wealth even if I am in the opposition. They [opposition leaders] are traitor of the country and I will continue to confront them. This country will become a great country when these looters are sent behind bars,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2021

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