WITH the submission of the notice for a no-confidence resolution by the opposition parties, the first step of the constitutional and legal process for a vote to remove the prime minister has been taken. The notice, which should have the support of at least 20 per cent of the total National Assembly membership or 68 members, is required to be circulated to all Assembly members.
It is generally perceived that the notice for the no-confidence resolution given under Section 36 of the National Assembly Rules in accordance with Article 95 of the Constitution should be sufficient to trigger the process for calling a session of the Assembly to discuss and vote on the no-trust resolution but this is not the case. The movers of the no-confidence resolution also need to requisition a session of the Assembly which has to be signed by 25pc of the total membership or 86 members of the Assembly. The opposition has fulfilled this essential formality.
Explainer: How does a no-confidence motion work?
Step 2 pertains to convening the Assembly session. According to Article 54 (3) of the Constitution, the session has to be summoned by the speaker within 14 days of the receipt of the requisition at such time and place as he thinks fit. March 23, therefore, is the last date by which the session needs to be convened. Multiple political and practical considerations will guide the speaker’s decision on the exact date the Assembly should meet. The place would not have merited any discussion as normally it is the National Assembly chamber but by sheer coincidence, the Assembly chamber is under renovation and a meeting of OIC foreign ministers is to be convened at the same venue on March 22 and 23. The speaker may, therefore, opt for another venue.
As the political debate on the no-confidence resolution rages, there is a need to be informed on the technicalities of the process itself.
Moving the no-confidence resolution in a sitting of the requisitioned Assembly session is the third step. The Assembly secretariat will include the moving of the resolution in the order of the day (agenda) for the first working day of the session. On the appointed day and time, one of the movers of the resolution will be asked to seek leave of the House to move the resolution. In the case of a no-confidence motion against the speaker of the National Assembly or chairman of the Senate, at least 25pc of the total membership of the House concerned are required to rise in their seats as a mark of support for leave to move the resolution but no such specific requirement is laid down in the Constitution, the law or rules for such a resolution against the prime minister. The provision of Article 55 of the Constitution will therefore apply; it states that all decisions of the National Assembly shall be taken by a majority of the members present and voting. If the leave to move the resolution is not supported by the majority — an unlikely scenario — the resolution will die a premature death and the process will not move forward. If the leave is granted, at least one of the movers will stand up and formally move the resolution.
Step 4 is the discussion on the resolution. The speaker may allot a day or days for this purpose. Generally, one or more movers speak to explain the rationale and justification of the resolution. Some of the members who oppose the resolution are also given the opportunity to speak. It is quite likely that the prime minister, against whom the resolution has been moved, also speaks and explains why such a resolution against him is not warranted. It is entirely up to the speaker to decide as to how many members are allowed to speak and how much time is allotted to each. The only constraint is that voting on the resolution has to take place no later than seven days after the resolution is moved in the House. Voting can’t be scheduled before three days have lapsed after the resolution is moved.
The fifth and final step is voting on the resolution. A specific mode of voting is adopted under which the speaker reads out the resolution and asks members voting for the resolution to pass through one of the designated entrances where tellers are posted to record the votes. While passing through the entrance, each member supporting the resolution has to identify himself or herself and one of the Assembly staff also calls out the member’s name to make sure that the member’s vote has been properly recorded. After all members who wish to vote have recorded their votes, the speaker invites the members back to the chamber and announces the result. If the resolution receives 172 or more votes in its favour, it will stand passed and the PM shall cease to hold office.
All those members who vote for a no-confidence resolution against the direction of their party may be declared by the party head to have defected from the party and forward the declaration to the speaker and the chief election commissioner but the status of the membership of such members has to be decided by the Election Commission within 30 days through a process defined in Article 63A of the Constitution. The party aggrieved by the decision of the ECP may appeal to the Supreme Court within 30 days and the court shall decide the matter within 90 days. Contrary to some of the opinions expressed in the media, till such time as the ECP finally decides on the declaration, the members in question will continue to enjoy all privileges of a member. Their vote on the resolution will be valid and counted even if they go against party direction and end up losing their seat due to defection.
Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2022