Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial on Thursday advised PTI lawmakers to "return to the National Assembly" as the Supreme Court (SC) gave the party another chance to prepare its case against the phase-wise acceptance of resignations from the lower house of parliament.
"People have elected [PTI lawmakers] for five years. The party should play its role in parliament. Playing a due role in parliament is the actual obligation," the CJP remarked during the hearing of a plea challenging the Islamabad High Court's (IHC) dismissal of the party's plea challenging the "piecemeal" acceptance of resignations by NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
Then-NA deputy speaker Qasim Suri, in the capacity of the house' acting speaker, had subsequently accepted the resignations of 123 PTI MNAs. However, the incumbent speaker had later decided to to verfiy the resignations and eventually, accepted the resignations of just 11 lawmakers on July 27.
The PTI had challenged the move in the IHC on August 1, contesting that it was "unsustainable".
The IHC, however, dimissed the petition on September 6 and declared that the acceptance of PTI lawmakers’ resignations by Suri was unconstitutional.
The PTI then approached the SC, praying it to set aside the IHC order, terming it "vague, cursory and against the law".
A two-member bench of the SC, comprising CJP Badial and Justice Justice Ayesha Malik, took up the PTI's plea today and observed that the IHC order clearly stated that the phase-wise acceptance of resignations by the NA speaker had a legal standing.
Apparently, the bench further observed, "interfering in the NA speaker's authority could affect Article 69" of the Constitution.
Article 69 of the Constitution essentially restricts the court's jurisdiction to exercise authority on a member or officer of parliament with respect to the functions of regulating parliamentary proceedings or conducting business.
The bench added that such meddling in the speaker's functions was a "very difficult task for the court". It then asked the PTI's lawyer to "satisfy the court as to what was lacking in the high court's order".
The party's counsel, Faisal Chaudhry, contended that Suri had initially accepted the resignations of all 123 PTI MNAs. "Once resignations are accepted, they cannot be verified again," he argued.
At that, the CJP commented: "The intention behind Qasim Suri's decision seemed to be the same as the one behind his ruling on the no-confidence motion."
Moreover, Justice Malik pointed out that Suri's decision did not mention the name of any lawmaker whose resignation was accepted. She also questioned how the PTI could approach the court as a whole when tendering a resignation was an individual act.
Advising PTI lawmakers to "return to the National Assembly", the CJP remarked that the nation had been badly affected by the catastrophic floods. "They have neither water to drink nor food to eat."
Noting that individuals from abroad were also visiting the country to help with relief, he added: "Consider the country's economic situation as well."
He questioned whether the PTI had any idea of the cost of conducting elections on 123 NA seats and stated that IHC CJ Athar Minallah had issued the judgement after "deeply analysing the law".
The CJP said one should conduct themselves in a dignified manner and exercise "tolerance in matters of the state".
"We are giving you another chance to think. Take instructions from the party," he told the PTI's counsel.
The lawyer, however, argued that except for Shakoor Shad, who was elected from Karachi's NA-246 constituency, none of the PTI MNAs had denied having resigned from the NA. The lawyer further stated that the IHC had said in its order that it could not interfere in the speaker's functions. At that, the CJP enquired whether the NA speaker was ever asked why he was not confirming the remaining resignations. "He has his own way. How can we interfere?"
The CJP observed that every institution worked within its capacity and an entire system needed to be in place to conduct general elections. And the turn-out was also usually low in by-elections, he observed.
The court gave the PTI another chance to "establish its case" and adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.
Commenting on the CJP's remarks after the hearing, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that that the SC had asked whether the PTI had any idea about the cost of conducting elections on 123 seats.
"The SC has no idea that Pakistan has faced a loss of $5 billion till now as a result of the regime change operation," he said.
Petition in the SC
In the petition file in the SC, the party has requested the apex court to set aside the high court’s order.
The speaker, the ECP, the federation through cabinet secretary and all 123 lawmakers have been named as respondents in the petition.
The petition argues that after the change of the government allegedly orchestrated as a consequence of foreign conspiracy and intervention, the PTI’s leadership took a policy decision to protest against it.
“To seek a fresh mandate from the people, the party decided to get all its elected members resigned en-bloc from the National Assembly.”
The decision was made in the parliamentary party meeting on April 11, chaired by PTI Chairman Imran Khan, the petition adds.
The petition pleads that Ashraf has no authority to ‘sit over’ the accepted resignations.
Calling the IHC’s decision “vague, cursory and against the law”, the petition argues the court didn’t address legal and constitutional questions.