Explainer: How does a no-confidence motion work?

Given that opposition has submitted the motion with the NA secretariat, when will voting happen and what happens if it succeeds?
Published March 8, 2022

This explainer was first published on March 8

A delegation of senior lawmakers, affiliated with the nine-party opposition alliance — the Pakistan Democratic Movement — and the PPP on Tuesday (March 8) submitted with the National Assembly secretariat two sets of documents, one under Article 54 of the Constitution to requisition the lower house because it is not in session currently, and the other a resolution calling for a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The much-anticipated move came after months of uncertainty surrounding the country's political arena, particularly since PDM President Fazlur Rehman’s February 11 announcement of the same.

Read: PML-N, PPP come closer on no-trust move against PTI govt

Recent activities have included meetings with disgruntled allies of the ruling party, meetings within opposition parties and lobbying with political figures.

So what happens next? How does the voting process work? Most importantly, is the PTI government going home?

Dawn.com explains all that we know about the no-trust move against Prime Minister Imran's government.

The equation of numbers

For a no-confidence motion to be successful, the support of a simple majority — 172 of the total 342 members — in the lower house of parliament is required.

The opposition claims they have the numbers needed, with Fazl adding that they have been aiming for the number of 180.

PML-N leader and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that to reach the number of 172, a total of 162 members would be provided by opposition parties and one by the Jamaat-i-Islami. He added that two members of the ruling party were “openly against” it, leaving a gap of seven votes.

“The numbers we have are [...] much more than that,” he said.

Veteran journalist Mazhar Abbas said that currently the opposition appears to be focusing on vulnerable MNAs from Punjab and Balochistan.

He said this vote of no-confidence was the “last card” of the opposition, therefore, they would not go for it if they were not very confident.

“They know that after this, the only option for them is going to general elections,” he added.

Process of a no-trust vote

If the National Assembly is not in session, the first step will be to requisition it under Article 54 of the Constitution. After this requisition – which must be signed by at least one fourth of the total members of the house – is submitted, the speaker has a maximum of 14 days to summon the session.

For a vote of no-confidence against the prime minister, at least 20 per cent of the total MNAs, which means 68 members, have to sign a resolution for it to be voted on.

After the National Assembly is in session, the rules of procedure dictate that the secretary will circulate a notice for a no-confidence resolution, which will be moved on the next working day.

From the day the resolution is moved, it "shall not be voted upon before the expiry of three days, or later than seven days," according to the rules of procedure.

Therefore, the speaker must call the lower house in session by March 22, while voting on the no-confidence motion must take place between three and seven days after the session is summoned.

A vote of no-confidence against the prime minister is conducted by an open vote by division.

Editorial: No-confidence tension

When the session takes place, Abbas explained, first, a bell is rung to inform any parliamentarians that may be outside the assembly hall, and then the gates are closed.

Those who are for the motion exit from one gate and those against the motion exit from another gate. As they exit, the count begins. Once the hall is emptied, the counting is completed and everyone re-enters the hall.

After this the speaker announces the result. If the vote of no-confidence is successful, the speaker submits the result to the president in writing and the secretary issues a notification to be gazetted.

A vote of no-confidence against a speaker or deputy speaker of the assembly is conducted through a secret ballot.

The rules of the assembly state that a speaker or deputy speaker cannot preside over an assembly session when their removal is being considered. Under the rules, the session cannot take any business other than the no-trust move.

If the speaker or deputy speaker is removed, a notification is published in the gazette.

What happens next?

According to the Constitution, if a no-trust resolution against the premier is passed by a majority of the total membership of the lower house, the prime minister ceases to hold office.

After the premier is removed, the National Assembly must immediately vote to elect a new leader.

NA Rule 32 states: "After the election of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker following a general election or whenever the office of the Prime Minister falls vacant for any reason, the Assembly shall, to the exclusion of any other business, proceed to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be the Prime Minister."

When the prime minister is removed through a vote of no-confidence, his cabinet is also dissolved.

“A cabinet is an extension of the prime minister’s powers. A cabinet can be selected from ministers, advisers [...] but a cabinet cannot exist without the leader of the House. A cabinet assists the leader of the House in close quarters,” explained lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii.

Jaferii added that the National Assembly cannot function without a leader.

“The first thing you do when you have an election [...] is you elect a speaker so that the House can have a custodian and as soon as you elect a speaker, you elect a leader of the House so it can have a direction.

“As soon as you don’t have a leader of the House, you must elect one again.”

Jaferii added that if there is no leader of the House, the president can dissolve the assembly and call an election.

In case of the removal of the NA speaker, the deputy speaker temporarily acts as the speaker, till the former can be appointed.

Meanwhile, lawyer Salaar Khan had a slightly different take on the process, saying it is “kind of a gray area” about what happens when the prime minister is removed from office.

Read: The ides of March

As per Rule 32 of the NA rules, the assembly has to elect a new prime minister “to the exclusion of any other business". However, Khan noted that Rule 37 states that the assembly can’t be prorogued till the motion is disposed of or the resolution is voted on.

“So one way to read it is that you have to immediately elect the new prime minister. You can prorogue the session [after the PM is removed by a no-confidence vote] but you cannot continue with any new business,” he said.

Past instances

No prime minister in Pakistan’s history has been removed through a no-confidence vote.

Such motions have been tabled against two premiers before this.

In August 2006, former prime minister Shaukat Aziz survived a no-confidence move against him.

The opposition resolution seeking to oust the prime minister from office got only 136 votes, 36 short of a simple majority of 172 in the 342-seat house it needed for passage while the 201-strong ruling coalition was not required to vote.

The first no-confidence motion against a sitting prime minister came in 1989, against then prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who survived the vote.

Former speaker of the National Assembly Chaudhry Amir Hussain was the target of two no-confidence motions — in June 2003 and October 2004 — against him and survived both.

In June 2003, a motion against him fell through as opposition members boycotted the voting after taking part in the debate.

This came 17 years after National Assembly speaker Syed Fakhr Imam was ousted by a similar move backed by president General Ziaul Haq.