Another U-turn?

Published October 7, 2022

WITHOUT any warning, the PTI has swerved into another spectacular U-turn. After complaining for months that National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was acting unfairly in refusing to ratify the 123 resignations submitted by PTI MNAs in April, then challenging the government over why only 11 were accepted and others were not, the party is now demanding that the accepted resignations should be de-notified forthwith.

Mr Ashraf had in April decided he would not accept any resignation without summoning each lawmaker individually and asking them to verify their decision. However, the MNAs who were summoned never showed up, and the speaker subsequently finalised a handful of resignations for notification.

In what appears to be a move to use the NA speaker’s reasoning to its benefit, the PTI has now challenged the decision on the same grounds: how can they be considered accepted if the law requires securing each lawmaker’s assent, which was never given.

The change of tack comes just days before by-elections were supposed to be held on the vacated seats.

The Islamabad High Court — which has been hearing the petition — has granted the party five days to demonstrate it is serious about returning to parliament. The frustration is obvious. The IHC chief justice asked the party why those lawmakers whose resignations were not accepted did not return to parliament. “To remain outside the National Assembly while being its member is a disrespect to its mandate,” Justice Athar Minallah remarked during Thursday’s proceedings.

One cannot disagree. The PTI lawmakers have been quite cavalier about their responsibility to represent their constituents in the National Assembly since they lost the government. There never was anything stopping them from launching a public drive to agitate against the PDM government and its policies while remaining in parliament. They gave the government a walkover on several important pieces of legislation and then tried to have the courts intervene in legislative business.

Read: How PTI lawmakers' 'U-turn' on quitting NA may play into govt’s hands

Whatever the future brings for the party, the fact remains that any power or legitimacy it needs to govern will always flow through parliament. It should not seek its powers and privileges if it cannot sit there and play by the house rules.

The PTI’s decision to take back its resignations could herald a twist in the tussle playing out in Islamabad. It is also worth noting that the government, according to a recent report, has not released funds to the ECP for the upcoming October 16 by-elections. What gives?

The noise created by the audio leaks last week seems to have dissipated almost completely, while Imran Khan continues to remain tight-lipped on a date for his next march on Islamabad. November draws nearer with the army chief insistent about departing on time and urging that the national focus remain on the economy. It is difficult to avoid conjecture with so much at stake.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2022

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