Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif on Monday tabled in the National Assembly a no-confidence resolution against Prime Minister Imran Khan.
As the much-anticipated session — which had the no-confidence resolution on its 26-point agenda — began after a two-day recess, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Qasim Khan Suri presided it.
Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif requested the chair for permission to present the no-trust motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan. "I will request that you (Suri) give permission to present this item in the house ... as the resolution was already on the agenda," he said addressing the NA deputy speaker.
Subsequently, voting was held to ascertain if the resolution should be tabled. According to NA rules, votes of at least 20 per cent of the total MNAs in the house — which means 68 members — are required to have the no-confidence resolution accepted for voting against the prime minister.
After the counting of the votes, the deputy speaker announced that 161 lawmakers had voted in favour of tabling of the resolution and hence, the "permission is granted to present the no-confidence resolution".
He then asked Sharif to present the resolution, at which the opposition leader rose and read out the resolution.
"Through this resolution, under clause 1 of Article 95 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, this House resolve that it has no confidence in the prime minister, Mr Imran Khan Niazi, and consequently, he shall cease to hold office under clause 4 ibid," he said.
Following the tabling of the resolution, the deputy speaker announced that debate on the resolution would begin on March 31.
"The session is adjourned until 4pm on March 31," he said.
At the start of the session, Suri asked Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan to present the first agenda on the item.
Awan then presented a motion seeking the suspension of the question-answer session for the day under rule 288 of the Rules of Procedures and Conduct of Business in the NA.
Rule 69 states: "Except otherwise provided in these rules, the first hour of every sitting, after the recitation from the Holy Quran, and taking oath by members, if any, shall be available for asking and answering questions."
"I wish to move under rule 288 of the Rules and Procedures and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007, that the requirements of rule 69 of the said rules be suspended in respect of the question hour for today, March 20 and the starred question be treated as unstarred," Awan read.
The no-trust resolution against the prime minister was earlier expected to be tabled on Friday, but the proceedings were deferred after NA Speaker Asad Qaiser had adjourned the sitting within minutes and ignored Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif who wanted to seek the floor to deliver a speech.
He did not allow the opposition’s no-trust resolution to be tabled after offering fateha for the deceased Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MNA from Hangu, Khayal Zaman, as per the parliamentary tradition.
It is a parliamentary convention that the first sitting after the death of an MNA is limited to prayers for the soul of the departed and tributes fellow lawmakers wish to pay them.
Qaiser had stated at the time that according to tradition, the agenda was deferred to the next day when a member of the lower house passed away.
Later, the opposition had lashed out at the speaker for not giving floor to Shehbaz, stating that it was also a parliamentary tradition that the opposition leader was always given the floor whenever he stood up to speak.
Venting their anger at the speaker after the session, the opposition leaders had alleged that the speaker was running the parliament “like a member of the ruling PTI and not the custodian of the house”.
Delay in session
Friday's session was summoned three days after the expiry of the constitutionally mandatory 14-day deadline for the session to begin, with the opposition having submitted the no-confidence motion with the NA Secretariat on March 8.
The opposition had submitted two sets of documents at the time, one under Article 54 of the Constitution to requisition the because it was not in session, and the other a resolution calling for a no-confidence vote against the prime minister.
According to Article 54, a session of the National Assembly can be requisitioned if at least 25 per cent of the members sign it, following which the speaker has a maximum of 14 days to summon a session.
Meanwhile, Article 95 of the Constitution and rules of procedure of the house mandate that a no-confidence resolution against the premier must have the signatures of at least 20 per cent of the members of the NA, which means at least 68 members, for it to be voted on.
After the NA 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.
Therefore, the speaker should have called the lower house in session by March 22, while voting on the no-confidence motion should take place between three and seven days after the session is summoned.
However, the speaker had called the session on March 25, three days after the March 22 deadline, citing the occupation of the NA chamber for the 48th session of the Organisation of Islamic Countries Council of Foreign Ministers on March 22 and 23.
'Fate of the resolution by Mar 31'
With no-confidence proceedings against the premier expected to begin today, Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid has said that the fate of the resolution is expected to be decided by March 31.
However, he had earlier told a news conference that the voting on the no-trust motion would take place on April 4 if the speaker allowed its tabling on Monday, hinting that the government could further delay the process.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties have planned to hold a strong protest inside and outside the National Assembly if the speaker further delays presenting the no-confidence motion.
The opposition needs votes from at least 172 lawmakers for the no-trust move to succeed.
After the decision of Shahzain Bugti of the Jamhoori Watan Party to quit the ruling coalition on Sunday, the number of treasury members has now reduced to 178 in the 342-member lower house of the parliament, whereas the opposition now enjoys the support of 163 MNAs.
The PML-Q, the Balochistan Awami Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan — the three major government allies collectively having 17 MNAs — have yet to decide which side they are on. These parties are still negotiating with both the government and opposition parties.
Besides, over a dozen PTI dissident MNAs have already come into the open with their criticism on the government policies, indicating that they might support the opposition’s no-trust motion even at the cost of being disqualified as NA members. However, some of the lawmakers have denied defection after they were issued show-cause notices by the party, which sought explanations from them as to why they may not be declared defectors.
Hence, the alliances of these dissident lawmakers remain unclear.
South Punjab bill
A government-sponsored constitution amendment bill seeking the creation of the south Punjab province is also on today's agenda.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the media on Sunday that he had submitted a constitution amendment bill to the National Assembly secretariat, seeking the creation of the south Punjab province.
It was at Qureshi’s request that the speaker had immediately issued orders to put the bill on Monday’s agenda.
The move has come at a time when the PTI is struggling to win back support of its allies and dissidents within the party, many of whom happen to be from south Punjab.
Under the draft bill, the south Punjab province would have 56 seats in the National Assembly, including 46 general seats, and 119 in its provincial assembly. Creating south Punjab as the country’s fifth province was one of PTI’s election manifestos.
“Today, we have fulfilled another promise made to the people of south Punjab,” Qureshi told reporters, adding that he had moved the bill on the prime minister’s directive. He urged opposition parties, including the PPP and PML-N, to support the constitution amendment bill.
A bill seeking the creation of south Punjab province introduced by PML-N’s Rana Mehmoodul Hasan and was supported by both PTI and PPP has already been pending before the Senate since January.
Two ordinances, besides resolutions seeking extension in the constitutional life of three other ordinances, are also on today's agenda. Interestingly, two of the ordinances have already expired.