National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Shah Suri dismissed on Sunday the no-confidence motion submitted against Prime Minister Imran Khan, terming it a violation of Article 5 of the Constitution.
The ruling came in response to a question raised by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who took the floor shortly after the session commenced and said that loyalty to the state was the basic duty of every citizen under Article 5 of the Constitution. He reiterated the premier's earlier claims that a foreign conspiracy to oust the government was behind the move.
The minister asked 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, which was presented on March 8, should be in accordance with 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".
Subsequently, he dismissed the motion, ruling that it was "contradictory" to the law, the Constitution and the rules. The session was later prorogued.
Here's what lawyers and analysts have to say about the development.
Abdul Moiz Jaferii
Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it and eventually you can tear up the Constitution.
What the deputy speaker did today was not simply an absurd misapplication of a Constitutional Article. It was the culmination of several attempts by members of the PTI to similarly misapply and publicly misinterpret and misrepresent the Constitution to their own designs.
As the political situation has changed, so too has the relevant Article under assault by the government.
The current season of customising the Constitution began with the plain misreading of Article 63-A to threaten their own members with lifetime disqualification, with such seriousness that the Supreme Court was asked to weigh in. It then turned to how an Article in the Constitution, designed to protect processes from defects just because of delays beyond Constitutional deadlines, was twisted into some form of allowance to the Speaker to violate his Constitutional mandate. And now it has come to this.
Even if there were anything to this lie about foreign interference, the process through which it was to be adjudicated was a court of law. Before evidence can be put forward of such an event taking place, and with the opposition's numbers now clear, this is basically a minority government calling the majority representatives of the people traitors. It is accusing the majority of the representation of Pakistan of betraying the nation on the premise that it wants the government out through a Constitutional process.
The Speaker has no business interpreting the Constitution in this manner. The Constitution has no allowance within it for generalised Articles, asking for allegiance to the state to be read with specific Articles governing the conduct of the Speaker and the process of no-confidence which have repeatedly and fatally been flouted. First by violation of timelines and now by the fatal disregard of what the Constitution mandates: that the vote of no-confidence must be proceeded with to the exclusion of all other business once tabled, and that a prime minister facing a vote of no-confidence cannot ask the president to dissolve assemblies.
The manner in which this government has used the Constitution to give cover to such clear malice — to such a blatant and desperate grab at holding onto power which no longer belongs with it — is reminiscent of the past actions of its once hybrid better half.
It is wolfish desire in the attempted innocence of sheep’s clothing. It fits perfectly with Shakespeare — the devil can cite scripture for his cause.
If any act or order is a nullity in law, it is considered void ab initio and any proceedings flowing from it are also void. A nullity can't be perpetuated. The prime minster's right to seek dissolution of assemblies via the President ceases to exist till a motion of vote of confidence is pending vote.
Dismissing the motion under Article 5 was unconstitutional and through that, the premier assuming the right to ask the President to dissolve the Assembly is also void. Furthermore, the Deputy Speaker dismissing the motion under Article 5 is also a charge sheet against the 86 parliamentarians, who had presented the motion, that they are acting against the interest of Pakistan.
If the Supreme Court accepts that the Assembly stands dissolved and elections should take place, it would in effect be validating today's unconstitutional proceedings. The SC will most likely reverse all proceedings and direct for the no-trust motion to be put to vote in line with Constitution.
Fortunately, all rulings of a Speaker or Deputy Speaker aren't protected. It was in Imran Khan's petition for disqualification of Mian Nawaz Sharif in which the Supreme Court held that certain rulings by Speaker can be justiciable, that if "the decision of Speaker was legally or factually incorrect it could set aside such decision."
A similar controversy regarding the vote of no confidence occurred back in 1989 in the Anwar Durrani case, where the Balochistan High Court held that courts can intervene in any matter requiring the interpretation of the Constitution and held that it was mandatory to put the motion to vote before any dissolution.
Democracy can only work if all political parties, leaders and institutions submit themselves to a mutually agreed higher value or code, which in our case is our Constitution.
The PTI, through its repeated actions, has clearly demonstrated it's willing to sacrifice democracy to save itself. But they don't realise that if democracy doesn't survive, they won't either.
Lawyer Salahuddin Ahmed was of the opinion that the deputy speaker's action were not only blatantly illegal, they were also clearly mala fide.
"The entire proceedings smacked of mala fide intent, with the information minister speaking for two minutes, before the Speaker summarily declared the motion illegal and prorogued the session," he said.
According to Ahmed, the Speaker did not have the jurisdiction to issue a verdict on the legality of a motion or legislation. "The Speaker's job is to perform a head count and then declare a motion passed or otherwise, accordingly," said Ahmed, adding that in today's proceedings, the Speaker's actions were completely illegal.
"The court not only can, but must intervene," he said, adding that the SC will likely declare the Speaker's ruling illegal, which in turn, would strike down the President's action to dissolve the assembly.
Mirza Moiz Baig
The Speaker's decision to dismiss the vote of no confidence runs roughshod over all values that underpin our constitutional dispensation. Invoking Article 5 to dismiss a vote of no confidence is unprecedented and lacks any legal basis. It also sets a dangerous precedent whereby any government may simply dismiss a vote of no confidence against it by levelling spurious allegations on those bringing the said motion.
This is also in violation of the SC order, which directed the government to ensure people aren't restrained from voting. While some may argue that the Supreme Court may not intervene in view of Article 66, the same is not absolute and the court may interfere under the theory of representation reinforcement and to preserve our democratic order and our republican form of government.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Ahsan Bhoon called upon all segments of society, including the lawyers' guild, to take a stand against "an act of a dictator donning a civilian garb" to protect "the future of the country".
He said he was filing a petition with the apex court in this regard.
"When a Constitution is stopping a man from working, then he has no power or authority to call for the dissolution of the Assembly."
Bhoon said Article 6 of the Constitution would be applied to the president, the prime minister, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, and the law minister.
He pointed out that Article 5, on the contrary, was different and it could have come into use when the [no-trust] motion was submitted to the Assembly.
"If the top court did not take notice, then people will believe it's also hand in glove with them [govt]," he claimed.
Salman Akram Raja
Advocate Salman Akram Raja said the opposition is now left with no option but to approach the Supreme Court.
"In my view, this is an unconstitutional ruling given by the speaker in response to a Constitutional move," he told Hum News.
He opined that a government statement surfaced all of a sudden wherein it termed the no-confidence motion illegal and subsequently adjourned the session. "This is a violation of the Constitution and the question remains whether the court will take up this issue. However, Article 69 of the Constitution says that any act by the NA or Senate shall not be intervened into by the top court."
Raja said there were a few examples in the world where the courts took notice of "government rulings based on malafide intent", adding that it happened in Britain as well as the European Union.
He said it was to be seen what stance the court adopted.
PPP leader and lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, while speaking to Geo News, said that the deputy speaker's ruling on the no-trust motion "seemed to be in violation of the Constitution".
"Although the Supreme Court has to decide [on the matter] now and the opposition is approaching it," he added. "But prima facie it [ruling] is in violation of the Constitution."
He explained that the Speaker could dismiss a motion if he considered it in violation of the law and rules. "But once it is presented on the floor of the House [...] it is elevated to a resolution and becomes a property of the floor of the House," he said, implying that the Speaker could not have dismissed it in this case.
Asad Rahim Khan
Lawyer Asad Rahim Khan predicted that "once again, the fate of parliament will be decided by the Supreme Court".
There are no ifs and buts:
- The Speaker’s ruling is blatantly unconstitutional
- Imran Khan has no authority to advise the President to dissolve the National Assembly
- Dissolving the assembly on the advice of a person who has no authority to do so has no Constitutional basis
'A dark day'
Columnist Shama Junejo said that Fawad Chaudhry had "misinterpreted" the Constitution, adding that the premier and the Speaker must be "charged with high treason" for violating the Constitution.
Journalist Fahd Hussain lamented that this was a "strategic crisis that has put our constitutional framework at stake".
Journalist and political analyst Mazhar Abbas, meanwhile, advised Prime Minister Imran Khan to "look back and accept his mistake".
Policy analyst Mosharraf Zaidi quipped that Pakistan would "now have its first ever foreign policy election".
Lawyer Hassan Kamal Wattoo termed it a "dark day for democracy and rule of law in Pakistan".