Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday formally directed Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNAs to abstain from voting on the no-confidence motion filed against him in the National Assembly by the joint opposition.
In a letter addressed to his party's lawmakers, the prime minister outlined his instructions for the day of voting.
In the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the premier warned that any violation of the instructions would be "treated as express defection in terms of Article 63-A" of the Constitution.
"I, Imran Khan, as head/leader of the parliamentary party of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in the National Assembly, take this opportunity to convey to you the following directions which are to be followed strictly", with regards to the no-confidence vote, the letter read.
It added that all members of the PTI in the NA shall "abstain from voting/not attending the meeting of the National Assembly on the date when the said resolution is set out on the agenda ... for voting".
"No member of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf shall attend or make himself/ herself available at the time and day of voting on the resolution of no-confidence."
The letter further stated that duly designated parliamentary members would speak on behalf of the PTI during debate on the motion.
"All members are required to adhere to these directions in true letter and spirit and keep in mind the intent behind the provision of Article 63-A of the Constitution," the letter said.
In the letter, the prime minister made it clear to all members that they should not "violate any instruction or extend any favour, relating to the vote of no-confidence, to any other parliamentary party or group".
Any violation would be considered defection, he warned.
The prime minister's directions have come a day after the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif tabled the resolution in the lower house of parliament.
Debate on the resolution will begin on Monday and voting on the resolution must take place within seven days of it being moved, according to rules and procedures of the house.
Meanwhile, the opposition — which needs at least 172 votes for the motion to succeed — and the government have stepped up efforts to ensure that they have enough lawmakers on their side to beat the opponents.
Jamhoori Watan Party leader Shahzain Bugti, who was special assistant to the prime minister on reconciliation and harmony in Balochistan, also announced on Sunday his resignation from the federal cabinet.
But a key government ally, the PML-Q, which has five seats in the NA, has thrown its weight behind the ruling party.
In a more recent development, Mohammad Aslam Bhootani, an independent MNA elected from the Gwadar-Lasbela NA-272 constituency, decided to quit the ruling coalition.
However, with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, a key government ally in the centre that has seven seats in the NA, yet to make a decision, the success of either side remains uncertain.
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.
According to Article 63 (A) of the Constitution, a parliamentarian can be disqualified on grounds of defection if he "votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relation to election of the prime minister or chief minister; or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or a money bill or a Constitution (amendment) bill".
The article says that the party head has to declare in writing that the MNA concerned has defected but before making the declaration, the party head will "provide such member with an opportunity to show cause as to why such declaration may not be made against him".
After giving the member a chance to explain their reasons, the party head will forward the declaration to the speaker, who will forward it to the chief election commissioner (CEC). The CEC will then have 30 days to confirm the declaration. If confirmed by the CEC, the member "shall cease to be a member of the House and his seat shall become vacant".
The government has also filed a presidential reference in the Supreme Court, asking it to interpret Article 63 (A) of the Constitution to ascertain the legal status of the vote of party members when they are clearly involved in horse-trading and change their loyalties in exchange for money.