Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Thursday observed that the matter pertaining to the acceptance of resignations of a few National Assembly members — belonging to the PTI — was a political dispute while observing that the “place to resolve such disputes is parliament”.
The IHC chief justice issued these remarks while hearing a petition filed by the PTI on Wednesday against National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf accepting only 11 of their resignations instead of those of all 123 party members of the lower house of parliament.
PTI lawyer Senator Ali Zafar appeared in court today.
In their fresh plea before the high court, the PTI members argued that after the change of their government through a “foreign conspiracy”, the leadership took a policy decision to protest against the party’s ouster from office.
“To seek a fresh mandate from… people, the party decided to get all its elected members resigned en bloc from the National Assembly,” the petition said.
The party is of the view that the speaker was under obligation to accept the resignations of all 123 MNAs who had quit the lower house of parliament to protest the ouster of their party’s government “through a conspiracy”.
‘Can’t issue directives to NA speaker’
Taking up the plea for a hearing, Justice Minallah said the court could not issue directives to the NA speaker, adding that people trust their representatives and send them to parliament.
He addressed the PTI counsel, saying: “You must hold a dialogue with other political parties to resolve such disputes.”
Barrister Zafar contended that the speaker did not fulfil his constitutional duty.
He told the court that 123 MNAs tendered their resignations on the condition that all lawmakers would quit the parliament en masse.
“If the resignations of all MNA haven’t been accepted then our condition stands unmet,” he said.
Justice Minallah asked the PTI counsel to rethink their strategy and then file an affidavit with the court.
He said the members were accepting that their resignations were “genuine”.
However, the PTI counsel insisted that the resignations were genuine, yet conditional.
The IHC chief justice observed that members whose resignations hadn’t been accepted must rejoin parliament, saying “ the parliament has been greatly disrespected, hence democracy should not be made a joke of.“
He said the court shouldn’t be used for “political point-scoring”.
“Go and fight your political battle outside the court,” Justice Minallah told the PTI counsel.
Barrister Zafar said the party had yet to decide whether it would rejoin parliament or not.
To this, the IHC chief justice remarked: “It cannot be that you don’t even go to parliament and still retain a seat.”
He said: “Enough has happened with parliament for 70 years, which should now end.”
The lawyer said the petitioners could not go against their party policy.
“Then this court can also not accept this petition,” Justice Minallah responded.
He said the plea couldn’t be admitted until respect for the parliament was expressed by the petitioners.
The court will not let the sanctity of the parliament be violated, the IHC chief justice said.
“Go back to parliament tomorrow, this court will accept your plea,” he added.
The PTI lawyer sought an hour to consult party leaders. The court accepted his request.
‘Was Qasim Suri’s ruling his own decision?’
Reconvening after the break, the PTI counsel said he wanted to present some legal issues on the matter of the resignations, arguing that the NA speaker had not considered the law while accepting the resignations and external forces other than the speaker had accepted the resignations of 11 PTI lawmakers, referring to a recent audio leak in which federal ministers could allegedly be heard discussing the issue.
“Don’t say such things that the speaker decided on [accepting] the resignations on someone else’s saying. Was deputy speaker Qasim Suri’s ruling or dissolving parliament his own decision,” Justice Minallah asked, adding that the PTI counsel should not delve into the past.
He said the court respected parliament’s supremacy and would continue to do so, noting, however, that “MNAs are not showing this respect”.
Zafar said the decision to return to parliament or not was a political one and the court should stay “far away” from it.
At this, the chief justice said that he was not saying anything regarding the matter, asking that when the petitioners said they respected the party’s policy, why did they want to return to parliament?
“It’s possible the party later decides to return to parliament and that some bill needs to be opposed. Our 11 members will not be able to go back in such a situation,” Zafar said, adding that the court had already outlined the process of acceptance of resignations.
Justice Minallah questioned whether the resignations were “genuine” or merely done to appease their political chief to which Zafar responded that the resignations of all PTI MNAs were conditional to all of them being accepted but only 11 were accepted.
He argued that the party did not want to give its resignations since they were not accepted in the correct manner and the party policy was that “we continue to remain MNAs”.
“Your party’s policy is that it does not believe in parliament. Should the court accept the petition to allow the petitioners to boycott parliament? To remain outside the National Assembly while being its member is a disrespect to its mandate,” Justice Minallah remarked.
‘You want to return on a political basis’
Zafar replied here that the petitioners were ready to give an affidavit that they would represent their constituencies in parliament.
The chief justice said that was not PTI’s party policy and there was thus a contradiction.
“You want to return on a political basis instead of representing the people of your constituency. You should first satisfy the court that the petitioners genuinely want to return to parliament,” Justice Minallah said, adding that the petitioners should then say that they had resigned under pressure, accept their mistake and want to go back.
Chiding the PTI counsel, the judge said that he could not clear the first hurdle, adding that he should prove that the decision to resign was a mistake and PTI lawmakers wanted to return to parliament.
“Tell us this, did someone force you to resign? The party has to decide what is in the interest of parliament and the people. It is in the best interest of the public that there should be no political instability. The public interest is that the sanctity of parliament should not be violated,” he remarked.
Justice Minallah said the NA speaker had provided the PTI with an opportunity to end political turmoil and return to parliament, adding that the court appreciated him for that.
‘No political party is above parliament’
“No political party is above parliament. This mindset needs to be changed. Parliament is not just a building. Even today no one is talking about civil supremacy,” the IHC chief justice pointed out.
Zafar asked him if the court wanted an assurance from the petitioners about representing their constituencies to which the judge said: “Not just an assurance, prove by your actions that parliament is supreme.”
Justice Minallah referred to the case of party MNA Abdul Shakoor Shad who was reinstated as an MNA by the IHC and whose membership was swiftly suspended by the PTI.
The judge said Shad’s case was different as he continued to attend assembly meetings and pointed out that the party had taken action against him, but was not doing so against the 11 petitioners.
“You have many contradictions. This court did not give directives to the speaker even in the Shakoor Shad case,” Justice Minallah remarked.
He told Zafar to submit the necessary number of affidavits that the petitioners did not accept their party policy, adding that the court would then accept their request.
Zafar responded that the PTI lawmakers accepted their party policy.
Here, the chief justice said that the Supreme Court had declared parliament’s dissolution as unconstitutional and yet, “this party is not accepting the SC decision”.
“This party says that this assembly has been dissolved by us so we do not accept it. What they cannot do directly, they want to carry out through this court,” Justice Minallah noted.
‘Only two ways to go about it’
He pointed out that there were only two ways for the PTI to achieve smap elections: to create political stability in which case the court would “not rescue” the party, or to respect the Constitution and solve issues in parliament.
Zafar said the party should be given time to consult on the affidavits to which the judge said the case could be adjourned for a long time. “Submit a miscellaneous application when the party decides to go back to parliament,” Justice Minallah added.
However, the PTI counsel contended that that would be of no use since by-elections would have taken place by then, to which the judge asked if the petition was filed only to stop the by-polls.
“This court will not entertain any petition that violates the sanctity of parliament,” the judge remarked, adding that 123 MNAs had said they were resigning, were not accepting the SC’s decision and yet, were then saying that they should be reinstated.
“This is a contradiction of position, the hearing is adjourned. This court will not even issue a notice on your request, if you want, we can decide on it today,” Justice Minallah remarked.
He pointed out that this could not happen that the PTI only accepted things which were to its liking. “Name a democratic society where this happens. Every democratic society has principles,” the judge said.
The hearing was adjourned indefinitely.
The petition filed by the 10 lawmakers on Wednesday stated: “The speaker of the National Assembly vide decision dated July 28, 2022 without any due [inquiry] nor any verification from the petitioners, treated the letters from the petitioners as “resignation”, final and binding” and forwarded these to the ECP who de-notified 11 members on the next date.
The petition stated that these lawmakers “acted upon the directions of the party and for the political objective only of arriving at an agreement with the opposition parties for holding of fresh elections… the resignations was subject to all the 123 members of the National Assembly belonging to PTI resigning and being de-seated jointly and as a whole.”
According to the petition, the resignations were “conditional upon and subject to all the 123 members, who had sent letters of resignation being de-seated as a whole and jointly.”
The petition said that the speaker was under obligation to verify the resignation to ascertain whether these were “voluntary and genuine and whether the same was intended to act as a resignation” alleging that the speaker had, in connivance with government functionaries, unilaterally approved these resignations.
“Hence, the impugned orders accepting the resignations of the petitioners and de-seating [them] and ordering holding of elections are all contrary to the Constitution and illegal and liable to be set aside,” the petition went on to say.
The PTI lawmakers insisted that their “letters were not resignations… the petitioners were not willing to proceed with the resignation which is not final and binding but conditional.”
The petition also referred to the recently-surfaced audio leaks and claimed that the incumbent prime minister, his cabinet and senior PML-N leaders had hatched a conspiracy for “piecemeal” acceptance of PTI’s resignations and that the speaker was also part of that plot.