National Assembly’s inaugural session: How are the PM, speaker and opposition leader elected?

When the newly elected NA members convene on Feb 29 for the first time, here is what will be on the house's agenda.
Published February 28, 2024

After much ado, Pakistan is finally poised to see the inaugural session of its newly elected National Assembly.

As per the Constitution, President Arif Alvi was obligated to convene a new session of the National Assembly within 21 days of the Feb 8 general elections, which marks Feb 29 as the deadline to do so. However, given his reluctance, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf took matters in his own hands and summoned the session on the deadline day — Feb 29.

The inaugural session of the new assembly will first see all the lawmakers take oath.

In the 336-member house, 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for minorities but the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has so far allocated only 40 reserved women seats to different political parties. These include 20 out of 32 of Punjab, two out of 10 of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all 14 of Sindh and all four of Balochistan.

Seven out of 10 seats reserved for minorities have also been allocated. The ECP is yet to allot reserved minority and women seats to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), which has allied with the PTI.

Here is an overview of what else is expected in the inaugural session of the National Assembly.

Speaker and deputy speaker’s elections

The session will be presided over by Ashraf as the incumbent speaker retains his place until a successor is elected.

“At the first meeting of the Assembly, following a general election, after the members have made oath and before the transaction of any other business, the Assembly shall proceed to elect a Speaker under clause (1) of Article 53, by secret ballot,” states Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007.

According to the Dawn bureau chief in Islamabad, Amir Wasim, the current speaker will first administer the oath to newly elected MNAs, following which each member will be called in alphabetical order to sign the register.

“The current speaker will then announce the schedule of the speaker’s election which will be held on the same day,” he said.

Article 53 of the Constitution of Pakistan says, “After a general election, the National Assembly shall, at its first meeting and to the exclusion of any other business, elect from amongst its members a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker and, so often as the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker becomes vacant, the Assembly shall elect another member as Speaker or, as the case may be, Deputy Speaker.”

Some time will be provided for the submission of nomination papers to the assembly’s secretariat, similar to how candidates are nominated in the general elections.

“At any time before 12:00 noon on the day preceding the day on which the election is to be held, any member may propose another member for election as Speaker by delivering to the Secretary a nomination paper signed by him and accompanied by a statement by the member whose name is proposed that he is willing to serve as Speaker, if elected,” states the official procedure.

The voting process will be conducted through a secret ballot, and whoever receives more votes will be elected the new speaker of the house. In case the speaker’s election ends in a tie, the election will be held again.

Subsequently, the new speaker will announce the schedule for the deputy speaker’s election. In the same manner, through a secret ballot, the deputy will be elected, Wasim explained.

Prime minister

Once both the speaker and his deputy are in place, the former will announce the schedule for the election of the prime minister, known as the leader of the house in parliamentary language. This election is traditionally held the next day or the day after the speaker has been appointed.

Section 91(3) of the Constitution says: “After the election of the speaker and the deputy speaker, the National Assembly shall, to the exclusion of any other business, proceed to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be the Prime Minister.”

In the same way, nomination papers for the prime minister’s election will be submitted to the assembly’s secretariat.

While the election for the speaker, his deputy and the leader of the opposition are free from any religious limitation, the prime minister’s election is open to only the Muslim members of the house.

Before the voting process begins, “bells” will ring for five minutes inside the parliament house to inform every member — in case they aren’t present in the chamber at the moment — to gather inside. Once the process begins, the doors will be locked, and no one will be allowed to enter or leave the hall till the PM’s election is concluded.

“Before voting commences, the Speaker shall direct that the bells be rung for five minutes to enable members not present in the chamber to be present. Immediately after the bells stop ringing, all the entrances to the lobby shall be locked and the assembly staff posted at each entrance shall not allow any entry or exit through those entrances until the voting has concluded,” according to the official procedure for recording of votes in the Second Schedule.

Under the supervision of the speaker, an open vote will take place — by division.

“For example, if there are two candidates, the speaker would say that ‘whoever wants to vote for candidate A can go to lobby A’ and ‘whoever wants to vote for candidate B, can go to lobby B’. If there are three candidates then there can be a lobby C as well,” Wasim stated.

At the entrance of the said lobbies, there will be an member of the assembly secretariat staff who will record every MNAs name in their register. This whole process will be open and people sitting in the galleries will be able to see who votes for whom.

Here, the political parties have to vote collectively and every member has to vote for the candidate that their party is voting for.

“If a member of a parliamentary party votes against the directives of their party, not only will their vote not be counted, but they will also be penalised and de-seated from the assembly,” Advocate Usama Khawar had previously told

After every member has picked their lobby and registered their vote, the speaker will call them back and announce the result. To be selected as the prime minister, one needs a simple majority — more than half of the votes in the house i.e. 169 votes out of the total 336.

But since there is no limit for the number of candidates hoping to grab the PM’s position, one possibility could be that there are three or more candidates contesting and none of them gets 169 or more votes.

Section 91(4) of the Constitution states, “The Prime Minister shall be elected by the votes of the majority of the total membership of the National Assembly: Provided that, if no member secures such a majority in the first poll, a second poll shall be held between the members who secure the two highest numbers of votes in the first poll and the member who secures a majority of votes of the members present and voting shall be declared to have been elected as Prime Minister: Provided further that, if the number of votes secured by two or more members securing the highest number of votes is equal, further poll shall be held between them until one of them secures a majority of votes of the members present and voting.”

This means that the two most-voted candidates will contest another round of elections till one ultimately gets 51 per cent of votes or more, and wins.

Leader of the opposition

Following the election of the prime minister, the speaker will ask the opposition members to submit the names of candidates, along with their signatures, that they want to make their leader.

“After the [election of the Prime Minister] the Speaker shall inform the members about the date, time and place for submission of a name for the Leader of the Opposition under their signatures,” says the official procedure in Chapter V 39(2).

The third point of the same section adds, “The Speaker shall declare a member as Leader of the Opposition having the greatest numerical strength after verification of the signatures of the members: Provided that any member who is not signatory to the proposal, if he presents himself before the count, and signs the proposal, shall be included in the count.”

This announcement will be made right after the prime minister’s election but submission of these lists can take time.

“It does not make a difference if the opposition leader is not in place right away. However, if the prime minister isn’t in place then it makes a difference to the country’s government,” Wasim explained.

“For the nomination of the opposition’s leader, I don’t think there is a timeframe,” he added.

“Prior to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the selection of the opposition leader was at the discretion of the speaker,” according to Wasim.

“This discretion was abused as seen during Parvez Musharraf’s era when despite PPP and PML-N having a clear majority, Fazlur Rehman was appointed as the opposition leader.

“The process has now changed. If there are two candidates vying for the position, they both will submit a list of opposition members along with their signatures to the speaker. The candidate who will garner more support from opposition members will be appointed as the leader of the opposition.”

For each one of the above-mentioned elections, the candidates’ own votes will also be counted.