FACING the ignominy of being voted out, the prime minister has taken an unprecedented step; advising the president for dissolution of the National Assembly and calling for early elections. In what many believe is a blatant violation of the rules, the deputy speaker declared the no-confidence motion illegal on the basis of what he described as a “foreign conspiracy”, thereby scuttling the much-anticipated vote that would decide whether Imran Khan remained in office or not.
Reacting in the immediate aftermath of Sunday morning’s events, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, who heads the Pildat think tank, pointed out in a TV broadcast that Fawad Chaudhry had hardly finished asking Qasim Suri for a ruling that the former deputy speaker began to read out a ruling — no doubt prepared in advance — showing that there had been no “application of mind” to the matter and a pre-prepared plan had been followed.
Editorial: Democracy subverted
It was evident that with the crumbling of the ruling coalition and defeat looming in the numbers game, the prime minister had lost the confidence of the house and that this was a last-ditch attempt to escape his imminent ouster. The development has now plunged the country into a constitutional crisis. The Supreme Court has taken suo motu notice of the matter and the whole country is awaiting its ruling over the government action.
Lawyer Faisal Chaudhry, who is the brother of ex-information minister Fawad Chaudhry, said there were judgements of the Supreme Court that put Article 5 of the Constitution “above all others matters”.
Speaking on a TV channel, he also said that the court would have to have a deeper look into the ‘Lettergate’ affair — a reference to the ‘threat letter’ from a foreign country that PM Khan has repeatedly alluded to as proof that the no-confidence move was part of a global conspiracy.
Last week, the PTI government had approached the military leadership to salvage the situation. Over the past several months, the security establishment had taken a step back, leaving the government to fight its own political battles with a re-energised opposition alliance. This decision seemed to encourage the opposition to step up its attacks on the government.
It also triggered an unraveling of the fragile coalition and led to a rise in the number of dissidents within the ruling party’s ranks. The PTI government has been floundering for some time, but no one expected it to unravel so quickly. The rising number of party defectors had also shaken the government and things were looking extremely grim for the embattled prime minister.
By his own admission, the ISI chief had reportedly given Imran three options: face the no-confidence vote, resign or go for elections. Imran Khan apparently opted for the latter option, provided the opposition withdrew the no confidence motion. The shrewd opposition, however, refused and asked for the prime minister’s resignation in order to end the showdown. That, many believe, was the end of the arbitration move involving the security establishment.
Meanwhile, the prime minister piloted a fresh narrative; that the opposition’s no-confidence motion was part of a “US-backed conspiracy”. He also claimed that he was being threatened for not accepting foreign dictation and for pursuing an independent foreign policy.
The story of foreign interference in Pakistan’s internal political matters was built around a cable from a Pakistani diplomat, based on his conversations with certain American officials. Although the contents of the letter were reportedly shared with some journalists, there is little evidence to substantiate the government’s claims that the no-confidence motion was sponsored by foreign forces.
The government, it would seem, purposely exaggerated an informal, undiplomatic expression by an American diplomat to build a narrative that suited their political needs and tried to paint the opposition’s ‘wholly democratic’ move as some kind of foreign conspiracy.
Even the statement issued after the national security committee meeting did not directly mention any such foreign-backed conspiracy for regime change in Pakistan.
The line that most people point to in the communiqué issued after the meeting is: “The committee concluded that the communication amounted to blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan by the country in question, which was unacceptable under any circumstances.”
However, any expert will tell you that this is standard diplomatic parlance whenever a third country comments on matters considered internal by any sovereign state.
But the contention was used by the government to throw out the no-confidence motion.
What is most troubling is that the PTI government is using the issue to declare opposition leaders “foreign agents” and “traitors”. The use of this ‘ultra-nationalist’ card could prove to be extremely dangerous for the country and could harm Pakistan’s national interest. The prime minister has been using religion to galvanise his right-wing support base. He has declared the unfolding power struggle “a battle between good and evil”; rhetoric that has made the political environment extremely volatile.
Imran Khan’s latest move is a further demonstration of his contempt for parliament and the democratic process. Such unconstitutional steps will only weaken democracy further – surely elections are the only solution to current political crisis in the country, but the ‘apparently unconstitutional’ means employed to block voting on the no-confidence resolution sets a bad precedence and cannot be tolerated.
In the words of Deputy Attorney General Raja Khalid Mehmood Khan, the federal government has ‘toyed’ with the law of the land. In his view, the deputy speaker’s action was totally in violation of Constitution. “Whatever happened according to the whims of Prime Minister Imran Khan, it has no cover under the law and Constitution,” he told a private channel on Sunday.
What we witnessed in the National Assembly on Sunday was a travesty of democracy, and what the prime minister doesn’t realise is that his surprise “trump card” could easily turn into a nightmare for him if the Supreme Court deems the government’s actions of April 3 ‘not kosher’.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2022