Imran Khan moves SC to impose lifetime ban on defecting lawmakers

Published April 14, 2022
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan. — Photo courtesy Imran Khan Instagram/File
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan. — Photo courtesy Imran Khan Instagram/File

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan approached the Supreme Court on Thursday seeking a lifetime ban from contesting elections for defecting lawmakers.

The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, named the Election Commission of Pakistan, speaker of the National Assembly, Federation of Pakistan through the secretary cabinet division, and secretary of the ministry of law and justice as respondents.

It was submitted in the apex court by PTI lawyer Babar Awan earlier today, and has requested the formation of a full court comprising all judges of the Supreme Court to "hear and decide this intricate question of interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution".

In his petition, the former prime minister argued that defection, also commonly called floor crossing, was against Article 63-A of the Constitution which states that 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".

"All members of the National or Provincial Assembly at the very first session of the house, take an oath, as stated in the third schedule of the Constitution," he pointed out. "The oath of members clearly states that they will abide by the Constitution, thus while deviating from the party policy, a member in reality is defecting from the Constitution and is violating his oath to office."

The petition maintained that a National or Provincial Assembly seat in a parliamentary democracy was synonymous to trust place in a member by the political party that brought him/her to the house.

"In circumstances where a bar has been imposed, for instance in matter of vote or no confidence against the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister, it can be said that any act of defection or floor crossing would amount to breach of trust imposed upon the member by the political party and in that case a defecting member cannot at all claim himself to be Sadiq or Amin as stated in Article 63(1)(d) of the Constitution," the petition said.

Floor crossing, Khan explained, also carries along with itself moral implication and therefore erodes the trust the nation has put into the legislative organ of the state and its members.

He added that it further usurps the mandate of the people, exposes the system to uncountable humiliation before the international community and sabotages national security enabling foreign enemies to use parliamentarians as a "tool to dislodge a democratically elected government".

Consequently, the PTI chairman contended that a defector parliamentarian cannot "claim a vested right to have his vote counted and given equal weightage" and demanded that such tainted votes should be excluded from the vote count.

He called on the apex court to ensure that a lawmaker was first required to resign from his existing seat in the assembly instead of committing defection as provided in Article 63-A of the Constitution.

The petition asserts that the "true spirit of the Constitution inserting anti-defection provision" was to treat the vote of defecting members as a 'challenged or disputed vote' "liable to be excluded from final counts till the determination of the issue of defection of the voting member in the manner provided in Article 63-A of the Constitution".

It further stated that the court had observed in many cases that defection or floor crossing was nothing short of cancer and destroyed the spirit of democratic governance, and prayed the court to declare that "any sort of defection would amount to imposing a lifetime ban on contesting elections"

Dissident MNAs

The petition also mentioned the "recent floor crossing and defection of PTI MNAs during the process of no confidence move against the former prime minister".

"Some of the defecting members have publicly admitted to defection in their interviews to the media in a daring manner feeling pride in their act and further committed to stay engaged in this immoral trade while gaining colossal amounts in cash and kind without any possibility of loss of membership of Parliament for life," it said.

The petitioner added that videos shown by the media were neither denied nor were rebuttals issued by the members in question and it had badly damaged the faith of masses on the system.

Before the no-trust motion against Imran Khan was tabled, several PTI lawmakers, who had been 'in hiding' at the Sindh House in Islamabad, revealed themselves — proving true the opposition's claims of having "won over" members of the ruling coalition.

A number of TV channels that sent their teams into Sindh House to verify the claims were faced with nearly a dozen PTI members, who claimed that they had developed differences with the Imran Khan-led government and were going to vote in "accordance with their conscience".

Presidential reference on Article 63-A

Before its ouster, the Imran-led government had filed a presidential reference for the interpretation of Article 63-A, asking the top court about 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".

The presidential reference was filed under Article 186 which is related to the advisory jurisdiction of the SC.

In the reference, President Dr Arif Alvi also asked the apex court whether a member who "engages in constitutionally prohibited and morally reprehensible act of defection" could claim the right to have his vote counted and given equal weightage or if there was a constitutional restriction to exclude such "tainted" votes.

He also asked the court to elaborate whether a parliamentarian, who had been declared to have committed defection, would be disqualified for life. It cautioned that unless horse-trading is eliminated, "a truly democratic polity shall forever remain an unfilled distant dream and ambition".

"Owing to the weak interpretation of Article 63-A entailing no prolonged disqualification, such members first enrich themselves and then come back to remain available to the highest bidder in the next round perpetuating this cancer."

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