The rejection of all 10 votes of the PML-Q by the Punjab Assembly’s deputy speaker in the contest for the chief minister’s slot, which paved the way for Hamza Shehbaz’s victory, has ignited a fresh controversy.
During Friday’s session, the deputy speaker said he had spoken to Shujaat Hussain over the phone to verify the letter he had written, and citied the apex court’s verdict on the interpretation of Article 63-A — which led to the de-seating of 25 PTI MPAs — as the basis for his decision to reject all 10 PML-Q votes for “violating the party head’s direction”.
This step, which is reminiscent of what the PTI tried to do during proceedings for a no-confidence vote against Imran Khan through Qasim Suri’s ruling, has triggered a fresh political crisis and given birth to yet another constitutional controversy over the interpretation of Article 63-A in the light of recent Supreme Court orders.
The article in question states: “If a member of a Parliamentary Party composed of a single political party in a House — (a) resigns from membership of his political party or joins another Parliamentary party; or (b) votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs, in relation to — (i) election of the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister; or (ii) a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or (iii) a Money Bill or a Constitution (Amendment) Bill; he may be declared in writing by the Party Head to have defected from the political party…”
Former attorney general Irfan Qadir was of the opinion that Mr Mazari relied on the apex court’s decision in a similar matter, adding that the deputy speaker only had two options — count the votes or reject them. In both cases, the affected party would have objected to his decision, he said.
Responding to a query about the discussion on who gets to set the party line — the parliamentary party or the party head — Mr Qadir said there were two aspects to this question: a legal one and a practical one.
In legal terms, he said, the stance of the parliamentary party is brought forward through the stance of the party head, as was seen in the case of the defection of 25 PTI MPAs.
There may be a situation in which a party head is giving one policy and the parliamentary party is going against it, as was seen in the CM election on Friday, he said. He questioned how a party at odds with its own head could keep a province united.
PTI Senator and former Supreme Court Bar Association president Ali Zafar said if the parliamentary party took one decision and the party head another, then it was a political issue and had nothing to do with the constitutional or legal crisis.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Ahsan Bhoon told Dawn the deputy speaker acted in the light of the apex court’s verdict on 63-A. He claimed that there was an inherent flaw in the SC verdict that led to even the candidate himself – i.e. Parvez Elahi – being barred from voting for himself.
Constitutional expert Hamid Khan, who has also been associated with the PTI and contested an election on the party ticket in the past, believed that the deputy speaker didn’t take the right decision.
He argued that the verdict Mr Mazari cited as the basis of his ruling was of a different nature. “Directions [on adopting a policy] can be given by the parliamentary party and not the party head, who can though initiate action on violation of the party’s direction in voting for CM’s election, no-confidence or a money bill,” he said.
As the losing party was going to move a court of law, Mr Khan said it would be a long legal battle for the PML-Q president, who will now surely use his actual powers to get those Q-Leaguers disqualified who went against his directions in the runoff poll.
Known lawyer Salman Akram Raja asserted that Chaudhry Shujaat could not bar MPAs from voting as per their parliamentary party’s decision.
“Article 63-A is clear. Some manipulations of the Constitution are sad, this one is just silly,” he tweeted, while referring to Mr Mazari’s decision.
“Travesty by the Deputy Speaker. All sides have tried to make a mockery of the Constitutional process when it has suited them to do so. The Constitution functions meaningfully only when all entrusted with implementing it follow its text & its spirit regardless of partisan politics,” he said, in another tweet.
Barrister Haider Zaman Qureshi, however, argued that the deputy speaker’s ruling is in line with the judgement of the Lahore High Court and Supreme Court. In case votes were cast against a party head’s directives, they were liable to be excluded from the count.
“Today’s ruling is not contrary to the interpretation of Article 63-A as laid down by the superior courts of Pakistan. The question whether such MPAs will lose their membership will be determined once the party head writes to the Election Commission about their disqualification in terms of Article 63-A,” he said.
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2022