ANALYSIS: PM’s plan to seek vote of confidence stirs debate

Published March 5, 2021
The requisition of the National Assembly for the purpose of requiring the prime minister to obtain a vote of confidence under Article 91(7) of the Constitution has generated a debate among constitutional experts. — AFP/File
The requisition of the National Assembly for the purpose of requiring the prime minister to obtain a vote of confidence under Article 91(7) of the Constitution has generated a debate among constitutional experts. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The requisition of the National Assembly for the purpose of requiring the prime minister to obtain a vote of confidence under Article 91(7) of the Constitution has generated a debate among constitutional experts on the domain of the constitutional provision since this is the case of first impression.

Clause 7 of Article 91 reads: “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.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday during a televised address to the nation announced that he would obtain a vote of confidence from the National Assembly on Saturday.

According to a federal minister, the prime minister could advise the president for summoning the National Assembly session. However, the minister did not comment on the language of the constitutional provision that explains circumstances for requisition of the session for the PM’s vote of confidence.

Article 91(7) can be invoked by president, not PM, argues Rabbani

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz said that what happened during Wednesday’s Senate election was an eye-opener and the prime minister had decided to obtain a vote of confidence to dispel any negative impression. “This is a bold step of the prime minister as he is not a traditional politician and has always played on the front foot. Therefore, he will submit himself for a confidence vote.”

He said that the prime minister took this decision to dispel the impression as portrayed by the opposition that he had lost confidence of the National Assembly.

On the other hand, constitutional expert Senator Raza Rabbani termed the government’s move against the constitutional scheme and said that Article 91(7) was about exclusive jurisdiction of the president, and not the prime minister.

“It is the prerogative of the president to invoke this Article if he believes that the PM has lost the confidence of the National Assembly since the law specifically states that it is the ‘satisfaction of the president’ to assume that the PM does not command the confidence of the assembly.”

According to Mr Rabbani, the prime minister can only advise the president to dissolve the National Assembly under Article 58 or the president may also dissolve the National Assembly at his discretion when a vote of no-confidence is passed against the PM.

Senator Farooq H. Naek said that there were two articles in the constitution that required the premier to obtain a vote of confidence.

He said that the president could invoke Article 91(7) requiring the PM to obtain a vote of confidence and Section 95(1) defined the procedure for tabling a no-confidence motion. It says: “A resolution for a vote of no-confidence moved by not less than twenty per centum of the total membership of the National Assembly may be passed against the Prime Minister by the National Assembly.”

According to Mr Naek, Clause 2 of Article 95 says that the resolution shall not be voted upon before the expiration of three days, or later than seven days, from the day on which such resolution is moved in the National Assembly.

Clause (4) of Article 95 states: “If the resolution is passed by a majority of the total membership of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister shall cease to hold office.”

Mr Naek said the opposition was required to submit the resolution by 68 members of the National Assembly and the resolution was required to be adopted by at least 172 members of the National Assembly.

Likewise, he said, Article 97(1) required the PM to obtain 172 votes to make sure that he enjoyed confidence of the majority of the MNAs.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2021

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