In a shock move, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri on Sunday dismissed the no-trust move against Prime Minister Imran Khan, terming it against Article 5 of the Constitution.
Suri chaired today's session after opposition parties filed a no-confidence motion against Speaker Asad Qaiser.
According to Article 5:
- Loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen
- Obedience to the Constitution and law is the [inviolable] obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan
However, that was not the only surprise of the day for the opposition. Shortly after the no-trust resolution was dismissed before voting could take place on it, the prime minister announced that he had advised the president to dissolve the NA under Article 58 and asked the nation to prepare for fresh elections.
Taking the floor shortly after the NA session began, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that loyalty to the state was the basic duty of every citizen under Article 5(1). He reiterated the premier's earlier claims that a foreign conspiracy was behind the move to oust the government.
"On March 7, our official ambassador was invited to a meeting attended by the representatives of other countries. The meeting was told that a motion against PM Imran was being presented," he said, noting that this occurred a day before the opposition formally filed the no-trust move.
"We were told that relations with Pakistan were dependent on the success of the no-confidence motion. We were told that if the motion fails, then Pakistan's path would be very difficult. This is an operation for a regime change by a foreign government," he alleged.
The minister questioned how this could be allowed and called on the deputy speaker to decide the constitutionality of the no-trust move.
Suri noted that the motion was presented on March 8 and should follow the law and the Constitution. "No foreign power shall be allowed to topple an elected government through a conspiracy," he said, adding that the points raised by the minister were "valid".
He dismissed the resolution, ruling that it was "contradictory" to the law, the Constitution and the rules. The session was then immediately prorogued.
Opposition parties, angered by the NA proceedings, decided to hold their own mock session in the lower house of parliament with PML-N's Ayaz Sadiq sitting on the speaker's seat.
During the mock proceedings, 195 lawmakers voted in favour of the no-confidence motion, according to PPP's Sherry Rehman.
The military, meanwhile, distanced itself from the political developments in the country. “Army has nothing to do with the political process,” Major General Babar Iftikhar, the head of the military's public relations wing, told Reuters in response to a question about the institution's involvement in Sunday's developments.
Opposition refuses to leave NA, calls ruling 'illegal'
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif termed Sunday's developments as "nothing short of high treason".
"Imran Khan has pushed the country into anarchy. Niazi and his cohort will not be allowed to go scot-free. There will be consequences for [the] blatant and brazen violation of the Constitution. Hope the Supreme Court will play its role to uphold the Constitution," he said.
Speaking to the media in parliament after the NA session, PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari said the ruling by the deputy speaker was "totally illegal" and that the Constitution did not allow the dissolution of assemblies at this stage.
With regards to the dismissal of the no-confidence motion, he said, "The court has sat down. Let's see what it says."
He added that "we are prepared for everything ... even for elections".
To a question whether the opposition the deputy speaker's ruling coming, Zardari replied, "Yes ... but one has to go along with what their friends have thought of."
PPP Chairman Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari said that the government had violated the Constitution by not allowing voting to take place on the no-confidence motion.
"The united opposition is not leaving Parliament. Our lawyers are on their way to Supreme Court. We call on ALL institutions to protect, uphold, defend and implement the Constitution of Pakistan."
PPP's Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar termed the government's move a "blatant violation" of the Constitution and the rules.
"The Supreme Court cannot and should not sit by as a mere spectator. The chief justice should immediately take to the bench and save the country from a constitutional crisis!"
In another tweet, he said that a petition was being prepared by party leaders Farooq Naek and Raza Rabbani. "We should be at the Supreme Court registrar’s office no later than 3:30pm," he said.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz said that no one could be allowed to "distort" the Constitution for the sake of saving their seat. "If this crazy fanatic is not punished for this crime, then the law of the jungle will prevail in the country after today!"
PML-N's Ahsan Iqbal said PM Imran had proven to the world that he did not possess even an "iota" of decency, grace and honour.
"Having lost the majority in National Assembly, [he] chooses to bulldoze constitution. He will be defeated with unprecedented humiliation in history," he said.
Meanwhile, Amir Liaquat announced his decision to quit the PTI and called on Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial to restore the National Assembly and ensure voting on the no-trust motion.
Deputy attorney general announces resignation
Separately, Deputy Attorney General of Pakistan Raja Khalid Mahmood Khan announced his resignation over Sunday's NA proceedings.
Lashing out at the government, he said that it was a "clear abrogation of the Constitution" and fell under Article 6, which deals with treason.
Speaking to Geo News, he said that it was a blatant violation of the Constitution when rules and the law were superseded. He claimed that the apex court would take action and declare the NA proceedings null and void.
He predicted that the apex court would rule that the no-trust motion was still pending.
Opposition had support of 174 MNAs
The joint opposition — primarily the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the PPP — had submitted the no-confidence motion against the premier with the NA Secretariat on March 8.
In the days to follow, the country's political landscape was abuzz with activity as parties and individuals changed alliances and the PTI and opposition were seen trading barbs and allegations alongside intensifying efforts to ensure their success in the no-confidence contest.
Eventually, major allies of the ruling PTI — Balochistan Awami Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan — deserted the government and joined the opposition ranks which led to PM Imran losing his majority in the lower house of parliament.
It was expected that if the voting, scheduled for today, went ahead, PM Imran would lose the confidence of the house while the joint opposition had nominated Shehbaz as their candidate for the top post.
Opposition lawmakers on Sunday had appeared confident of the success of the no-trust move as they made their way to Parliament House. The opposition needed the support of at least 172 lawmakers from a total of 342 to oust the premier through the no-trust move.
Opposition parties had managed to cross the magical figure of 172 on Sunday, claiming to enjoy the support of 174 NA members, according to a list shared by PML-N's Marriyum Aurangzeb.
The number did not include over a dozen dissidents of the ruling PTI, who had publicly declared the withdrawal of their support to the prime minister.
No-confidence motion submitted against Qaiser
Prior to today's session, the opposition also submitted a no-confidence motion against NA Speaker Asad Qaiser.
The resolution, addressed to the secretary of the National Assembly Secretariat, was submitted by Murtaza Javed Abbasi of the PML-N. The resolution carried the signatures of more than a hundred lawmakers.
Bilawal, who shared an image of the resolution on Twitter, tagged the official handles of PM Imran and Qaiser, with a simple "surprise".
Security arrangements in place, PTI workers detained
On Sunday, giant metal containers blocked roads and entrances to the capital's diplomatic enclave and to Parliament and other sensitive government installations in the capital.
Islamabad police also detained three female workers of the PTI who were protesting and chanting slogans outside Parliament House before the start of the NA session.
A day earlier. the capital administration had imposed a ban on pillion riding and suspended the metro bus service ahead of the National Assembly meeting.
Officials of the capital administration said a two-day ban had been imposed on pillion riding while the metro bus service would remain suspended for one day.
Additional input from AP