The stance taken by the 10 de-seated Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers in their latest petition before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging the acceptance of their resignations by National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has strengthened the general impression prevailing in the political circles — particularly among the party’s opponents — that the former ruling party has been using the issue as a smokescreen.
The PTI lawmakers, whose resignations had been accepted by the speaker in July, have surprisingly used the term “en masse letters” in their petition, instead of “en masse resignations”.
According to legal experts, this can be interpreted as meaning that the PTI lawmakers had, in fact, not submitted their resignations from the assembly. Moreover, the petitioners have also stated that their resignations were conditional as they were “subject” to the quitting of all 123 PTI lawmakers at once.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) termed the position taken by the PTI petitioners “contradictory”, saying the party had earlier been claiming that former deputy speaker Qasim Suri had already accepted their resignations, which was a fact.
Mr Suri, he said, had accepted the resignations, but these could not be processed further as the National Assembly Secretariat did not forward them to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and later the new speaker reversed the process.
Expressing his surprise over the plea taken by the PTI that the speaker should either accept all 123 resignations or reject them altogether, Mr Mehboob said there was no such provision in the laws to make the resignations conditional or linked with the acceptance of others’ letters of notice.
Interestingly, the de-seated PTI MNAs have also mentioned in their petition the case of another party MNA from Karachi, Abdul Shakoor Shad, whose resignation had also been accepted by the speaker along with them, but was later reinstated by the high court after he challenged the speaker’s ruling with the stance that his letter was not sent voluntarily. The PTI has already suspended Mr Shad from the party membership after the court’s verdict in his favour.
A senior official of the National Assembly Secretariat, who is privy to the entire episode of resignations, told Dawn that another contradiction in the petition was where the PTI members have stated that the speaker had “treated their letters as resignation” and that he had done so without any “due inquiry or verification.”
The official recalled that the speaker had summoned each and every member of the PTI in the first week of June to personally appear before him for verification of their resignations, but no one turned up.
He suggested that if the PTI members really wanted to quit the assembly and force the government to hold elections, they should come to the house and submit them again to end the controversy once and for all as the National Assembly session is set to begin from Friday.
In their petition, the PTI members have also stated that their letters are not resignations in the eyes of law as the letters were “conditional” and based on the fact that the party’s demands should be met. They said that since they did not appear before the speaker, it was obvious that as a “matter of law” they were not willing to proceed with the resignations.
Editorial: The PTI XI
When contacted, PTI Senior Vice-President Fawad Chaudhry said there was no contradiction or change in the party’s stance from day one. He alleged that it was the government that did not want to hold by-elections in the country, which was evident from the fact that it had reportedly not released funds to the ECP to hold by-elections, scheduled from October 16.
Mr Chaudhry did not agree with the notion that the position taken by the PTI over the resignation issue was in fact proving beneficial for the government. He said that in the absence of the PTI members, the current National Assembly had become “redundant”.
When asked why PTI members did not go to the assembly again to re-submit resignations and end the controversy once and for all, he said that since they had already taken up the matter with the Supreme Court, they would be waiting for its decision.
He said the party believed that former deputy speaker Qasim Suri had already accepted their resignations and, therefore, the incumbent speaker had no right to reverse the process. He, however, said they could consider submitting their resignations again but only after the Supreme Court’s verdict.
The decision to resign en masse from the assembly had been taken at the PTI’s parliamentary party meeting after the success of the no confidence resolution against the then prime minister Imran Khan. The decision was later announced by vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the floor of the assembly only minutes before election of Shehbaz Sharif as the prime minister on April 11.
Former deputy speaker Qasim Suri, who was then functioning as the acting speaker, had immediately accepted the resignations and directed the secretariat to issue a notification.
On April 14, the PTI had released the secretariat’s notification declaring that 123 party MNAs “resigned from their seats by writing under their hand” to the speaker. The notification, signed by NA Secretary Tahir Hussain, had declared that after submission of the resignations their seats had become vacant in terms of Article 64(1) of the Constitution, with effect from April 11.
According to sources in the NA secretariat, a majority of the resignations submitted by the PTI MNAs were not handwritten and had similar text printed on the party’s letterhead. The secretariat staff also had doubts over the signatures of some members as they didn’t match with those on the assembly’s roll.
Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2022