Vote of confidence

Published March 6, 2021

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan’s decision to take a vote of confidence from parliament today is a bizarre move with a fairly obvious outcome. It will mark the first time a prime minister has undertaken such an exercise after the passage of the 18th Amendment.

Prior to this, the law required every prime minister to take a vote of confidence from the Assembly within 30 days of being elected — a vote that Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and other prime ministers of the past had to seek after their election.

Since 2010, however, the law does not require such a practice. In fact, according to clause 7 of Article 91 of the Constitution, 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” in the Assembly. Does the president feel this is the case? There appears to be confusion about whether the government even followed the correct procedure to call such a session.

This entire effort appears to be a remedial attempt by Mr Khan to put salve on the wounds inflicted on his party’s morale by the stunning upset on the Islamabad Senate seat. Yousuf Raza Gilani’s victory over Hafeez Sheikh has shaken Mr Khan, whose video message a day earlier was clearly a morale-boosting endeavour. Since his message, multiple senior members of his party, including serving federal ministers, have posted on social media that they “stand behind the prime minister”.

The Senate shock jolted him and the party to such an extent that the latter feels compelled to publicly affirm its faith in the prime minister. The confidence vote, too, is an indication of this mistrust. Unfortunately for Mr Khan, despite taking such a measure, the reality that there are people in his party who defected and voted for his rivals will not change. It would have been better if the prime minister left the subject of a no-confidence motion to the opposition, and then consolidated his position.

Instead of focusing his energy on a show of bravado, Mr Khan ought to reflect on the future of legislative business. The way to prove his strength in parliament is by getting bills passed — something that has proved to be a challenge time and again.

Neither the government nor the opposition have shown signs that they are ready to de-escalate tensions. The opposition has made the impulsive decision to boycott Assembly proceedings, apparently due to reservations that the correct process was not followed. It would have been better if the opposition had attended the session and recorded its protest, as parliament is the right forum for this discussion.

The days ahead will be challenging and fraught with high political drama. The government must adopt a mature approach and develop a pragmatic strategy for a way forward.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2021

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