A NO-CONFIDENCE resolution is not necessarily a negative move. In fact, the only feature that distinguishes a democratic system from a dictatorial regime is a well-defined, orderly and non-violent method of removing a sitting chief executive. A no-confidence motion does create turbulence in the system of governance and introduces a certain element of uncertainty in the social, political and economic environment with its associated negative consequences.
However, one should compare these possible risks with far greater problems which may be created by continuing with a government that has lost the confidence of a majority of its electorate, has become dysfunctional and is vulnerable to blackmail by assembly members. All these can lead to disarray which is far more lethal than temporary disturbance and uncertainty. Having said this, a no-confidence resolution is not necessarily a good thing either. Each case needs to be examined within its own context.
Neither the merits nor the outcome of the recent no-confidence resolution against the Balochistan chief minister are known as yet and a decision will be in the making when these lines are printed. We can, however, analyse the dynamics of this move in the specific context of Pakistan and the province of Balochistan.
As a country which views its democracy with scepticism, it is very heartening that the effort to remove a provincial chief executive is being made strictly according to constitutional norms. Article 136 of the Constitution and Section 19-B of the Balochistan Assembly Rules of Procedure define the procedure for a no-confidence resolution. We have seen that a notice for the no-trust resolution was submitted to the Provincial Assembly Secretariat on Oct 11 with the signatures of 14 MPAs which forms a little more than 20 per cent of the total assembly membership as required by the Constitution and Assembly Rules.
It is heartening that the effort to remove a chief minister is following constitutional norms.
The assembly session was convened on Oct 20, the first working day after seven clear days had lapsed since the submission of the notice — exactly as required by the Assembly Rules. At least 13pc or 20pc of the total number of MPAs were required to allow the tabling of the resolution in the Assembly but 33 — way more than the minimum required — rose from their seats to grant leave to move the resolution.
The Speaker has fixed Oct 25 as the day for voting on the resolution, which is again according to the constitutional requirement that the voting date should not be less than three days and more than seven days from the date of moving the resolution. One should hope that voting also takes place in an orderly manner and the subsequent procedure to elect a new chief minister, if the no-trust resolution is carried, is also executed according to the law.
During the period since the notice for the most recent no-trust motion was publicly discussed and formally submitted, most of the discourse by the two feuding groups for and against the motion including the incumbent chief minister, Jam Kamal, and leader of the challenging group, Zahoor Buledi, has been generally civil. One must give them credit that their arguments on mainstream electronic media, despite provocative questions, have been within the norms of decency.
Everything was, however, not according to parliamentary norms. The rebel group alleged that five of their MPAs had been ‘abducted’ under the watch of the chief minister. The charge proved false when some of the ‘missing’ members resurfaced and others tweeted about their travel and other personal preoccupations.
On the other hand, about 35 members of the rebel group took ‘refuge’ at the Speaker’s official residence and the chief minister alluded to the possibility of their ‘captivity’ there. It reminds one of ‘Changa Manga’ — a forest resort near Lahore that was reportedly used to lodge a number of legislators back in 1989 in order to ‘protect’ them from the opposite group planning a no-trust move against the then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif. Since then, we have seen similar tactics repeatedly employed not only in Pakistan but also in India, for ousting sitting chief ministers in several states.
Many sympathisers of the incumbent Balochistan chief minister claim that although a majority of Balochistan’s MPAs have backed granting leave to move the no-confidence resolution, this majority may not be available to support the actual vote of no-confidence on Oct 25.
They cite the example of no-trust motion moved by the opposition in the Senate against the chairman of the Upper House in August 2019, when 64 senators rose from their seats to support the resolution but actually only 50 voted for the motion subsequently leading to its defeat despite the fact that the opposition enjoyed a numerical majority in the House.
This example is not apt simply because in the case of a no-trust resolution against Senate chairman, the leave to move the resolution is granted by senators through an open vote by standing in their seats but the actual vote on the no-trust resolution is by a secret ballot where it is not possible to know the identity of voters for or against the motion. In the case of the no-confidence vote against the chief minister, it will be an open vote where members will cast their vote by dividing themselves into two groups and passing through two separate portals while their vote is registered.
Another significant difference is that the defection clause defined in Article 63-A of the Constitution is not applicable to the no-confidence resolution against the Senate chairman but is very much applicable in the case of a resolution moved against a chief minister. It remains to be seen how many MPAs will be deterred by the fear of losing their seats while voting against the incumbent who belongs to their own party. The enforcement of the anti-defection clause largely depends on the party head but Jam Kamal has blunted this clause by resigning as party head, although he claims that he never tendered his resignation.
The writer is president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency.
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2021