Assembly dissolved, crisis triggered; only beleaguered Imran Khan remains PM

Published April 4, 2022
PRIME Minister Imran Khan (left) is all smiles at PM House as he is applauded by supporters and advisers after springing a surprise on the opposition, while opposition members can be seen clamouring after the deputy speaker disallowed voting on the no-trust motion.—Imran Khan Instagram / White Star
PRIME Minister Imran Khan (left) is all smiles at PM House as he is applauded by supporters and advisers after springing a surprise on the opposition, while opposition members can be seen clamouring after the deputy speaker disallowed voting on the no-trust motion.—Imran Khan Instagram / White Star

• Opposition barred from voting on no-trust motion
• Deputy speaker dismisses vote under Article 5
• Opposition holds own sitting; 197 oppose Imran
• Apex court takes suo motu
• Deputy AG resigns in protest
• Cabinet Division de-notifies PM, spox says can continue till caretaker set-up announced

ISLAMABAD: The country witnessed possibly the most eventful weekend in its history when the prime minister sprang his surprise on the opposition.

The deputy speaker, reading from an already prepared text, first disallowed the no-trust vote by ruling it to be part of a ‘foreign conspiracy’ and in violation of Article 5 of the Constitution.

Then, as opposition benches came to terms with what had happened, the PM appeared on TV to reveal that he had advised the president to dissolve the assembly and called on citizens to prepare for early polls.

But even as the country’s military said it had ‘absolutely no’ role in the crisis created by the events in the National Assembly, a perturbed Supreme Court bench led by the chief justice convened on Sunday to extol restraint.

As the NA session began on Sunday morning, Qasim Suri ‘disallowed’ voting on the no-trust motion against the premier on the pretext that it was part of an ‘international conspiracy’ and prorogued the session for an indefinite period in the presence of an overwhelming majority of lawmakers in the house siding with the opposition.

In a brief address to the nation, PM Khan later announced he was dissolving the National Assembly and the attempt to topple an elected government had been foiled. President Arif Alvi, who was called to PM House, endorsed the dissolution of the assembly under Articles 48(1) and 58(1) of the Constitution and subsequently the premier dissolved the federal cabinet as well.

“Army has nothing to do with the political process,” Major General Babar Iftikhar, the head of the military’s public relations wing, said when asked about any involvement in Sunday’s events, Reuters reported.

While terming the act of the deputy speaker unconstitutional, the joint opposition that claimed to have 197 lawmakers in the 341-member house on its side opted to move the Supreme Court against the deputy speaker’s ruling for not allowing the vote and proroguing the session. Since the opposition also moved a no-confidence motion against Speaker Asad Qaisar earlier in the day, he did not preside over the house on Sunday instead Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri conducted proceeding of the brief session before proroguing it for an indefinite period.

The federal capital was unexpectedly quiet and calm in the morning despite the PM’s call for street protests against the no-trust move. Except some contingents of police and Rangers, no rally or gathering was seen on roads leading to the Parliament House.

When the session started, 174 members were sitting on opposition benches but by conclusion of the session their number increased to 197, while the number of treasury benchers was said to be around 80.

Prime Minister Khan who was expected to attend the session did not turn up. Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) president Khalid Magsi, Balochistan National Party (BNP) President Akhtar Mangal, Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) chief Shahzain Bugti, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) parliamentary leader Asad Mehmood were sitting on the front row on the opposition side.

Caretaker setup

Fawad Chaudhry, who was given additional charge of law minister just a day before the dissolution of the cabinet, said that under Article 224 of the Constitution Prime Minister Khan would continue hold his office till the appointment of caretaker prime minister. However, former interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said PM Khan could hold his office for next 15 days only.

About the caretaker setup, Mr Chaudhry was of the opinion that the PM would write a letter to former Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif to suggest names for the caretaker setup.

NA proceedings

The NA session, which was scheduled to begin at 11:30am, started at 12:10pm. After recitation of Quranic verses and playing of the national anthem, Mr Chaudhry was given the floor immediately to speak.

Alleging that the opposition’s motion no-trust motion against the premier was ‘a part of international conspiracy’, Mr Chaudhry quoted Article 5 of the Constitution to say loyalty to the state was a duty of every citizen and asked the chair to reject the motion, triggering commotion and uproar from the opposition benches.

However, he continued his speech and alleged that Pakistan’s ambassador to the US on March 7 attended an official meeting in which the envoy was apprised that the no-trust motion was being moved against PM Khan. Mr Chaudhry claimed: “The motion came in March and before this no one was aware of that it will be moved against the prime minister.” He said it was also conveyed to the ambassador that their [US] relations with Pakistan would improve in case of success of the motion, otherwise, Pakistan would face difficult situation.

On the occasion, treasury members chanted slogans: “Kon bachai ga Pakistan — Imran Khan, Imran Khan,” “Amrika ka jo yar hai ghaddar hai ghaddar hai.”

Not about no-trust, but Article 5

Mr Chaudhry claimed it was unfortunate that an attempt was being made to change the present regime on the behest of international forces and suddenly “conscience of PTI’s allies and 22 MNAs awoke”. He said this matter was not about the no-confidence rather Article 5.

Article 5 of the Constitution states: “Loyalty to State and obedience to Constitution and law 5. (1) Loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen. (2) Obedience to the Constitution and law is the 1 [inviolable] obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan.”

He then asked the deputy speaker, “Is Pakistani nation of 220 million people so weak that any external force can change the regime in Pakistan? Is this not a violation of Article 5 of the Constitution? Are Pakistanis puppets and slaves having no status? According to the leader of the opposition, we [Pakistanis] are beggars. If we honourable nation — this drama cannot go on. Ruling [of the deputy speaker] should be given under Article 5.”

As he completed his speech, Deputy Speaker Suri gave his ruling by reading out a paper. “The joint opposition has submitted no-trust motion on March 8. No-confidence motion should be in accordance with the Constitution, rules and the law… No external power has a right to topple the government elected by people of Pakistan…points raised by law minister are logical, valid and in accordance with the constitution…Therefore, I give ruling and disallow the no-confidence motion because it is contrary to the constitution, rules and national independence,” he announced a week after the motion had been tabled in the house and prorogued the session immediately.

Besides Mr Chaudhry, prominent among those present on the treasury benches were Sheikh Rashid, Murad Saeed, Ali Zaidi, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, Pervez Khattak, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Shireen Mazari, Kanwal Shauzab, etc.

The opposition members gave a big round of applause when Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) leader and ex-minister Tariq Bashir Cheema entered the house. Ex-president Zardari presented a goodwill gesture when he came to former minister Shaukat Tarin, who was sitting with Hammad Azhar, had a brief chat with him. Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari also witnessed the proceedings while sitting beside Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and ex-premier Yousuf Raza Gilani in the visitors’ gallery.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2022

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