Tuesday, 24 May, 2022

Constitutional crisis deepens in Pakistan

► No-confidence motion cannot be rejected: CJ ► PTI proposes ex-CJ Gulzar for caretaker PM

Constitutional crisis deepens in Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Supreme Court adjourned Monday without ruling on Prime Minister Imran Khan's shock decision to dissolve parliament and call a snap election, sidestepping a no-confidence vote that would have seen him booted from office, report agencies.

The court, which will sit again Tuesday, received a slew of suits and petitions from the government and opposition after the deputy speaker of the national assembly refused Sunday to allow debate on a no-confidence motion against Khan's administration.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial said that even if the speaker of the National Assembly cites Article 5 of the Constitution, the no-confidence motion cannot be rejected.

A five-member larger bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Bandial and comprising Justice Muneeb Akhtar, Justice Aijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazhar Alam, and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel resumed hearing on the case filed by the joint Opposition a day earlier when the deputy speaker of the National Assembly barred parliamentarians from voting on the no-trust motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, terming it "unconstitutional." As a result, the CJ had taken a suo motu notice of the situation.

The Core Committee of PTI has proposed the name of former chief justice Gulzar Ahmed as the caretaker prime minister, ex-information and law minister Fawad Chaudhry said Monday.

The proposal of Gulzar — who laid down his robes on February 1, 2022 — comes after President Dr Arif Alvi had sent letters to Prime Minister Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif to seek suggestions for the appointment of a caretaker prime minister under Article 224-A(1 )of the Constitution.

The letter stated that the National Assembly and the federal cabinet had been dissolved under Article 58(1) of the Constitution on Sunday, reports the Dawn.

The president said that PM Imran would continue to hold office until the caretaker premier's appointment is made under Article 224-A(4) of the Constitution.

"Caretaker prime minister shall be appointed by the president in consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in the outgoing NA as per Article 224-A(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan," the letter said.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawyer Babar Awan, in his arguments, said that he wanted to refer to the decision of the Supreme Court dated March 21, 2022. "The Attorney General had assured the court that no member of the Assembly would be prevented from appearing there. The Supreme Court did not take notice of the PTI's allies in this regard.

Babar Awan said that the presidential reference should be heard with the present suo motu notice.

"Record my request, Imran Khan has allowed me to say this before the court that we are ready to hold elections."

Upon hearing that, Justice Bandial told him "not to talk about politics in front of the judges."

Justice Bandial maintained in a written judgment that his fellow judges had approached him and had expressed concern over the constitutional crisis the country was facing.

During the hearing, PPP's counsel Farooq H Naek referred to Article 54(3) and said that the National Assembly session was supposed to be convened within 14 days after a motion is submitted.

"The no-trust motion was submitted on March 8, 2022, while the assembly session was called on March 25 instead of March 21.

The NA deputy speaker adjourned session on March 25 after Fateha till March 28," Naek said.

The speaker didn't provide any reason for not convening the meeting till March 20 after the motion was submitted, he added.

At this, Justice Mandokhel objected that Naek's case is related to the action of the speaker in Sunday's NA session.

"Tell [me] if the speaker was right or wrong," the judge asked Naek.

"If there are 100 members in the assembly, and of them, 50 are against it and only 25 support it. Wouldn't the motion be dismissed if the majority is opposing it?" Justice Akhtar questioned.

Naek said that if the majority says that the motion cannot be presented, then it cannot happen. He, however, added that it is the House that allows the motion to be presented, not the speaker.

Justice Akhtar replied that if the government is in the majority in the NA, and if it votes against the motion, no motion will ever be moved.

"Does the speaker have the power not to allow the motion to be moved? What happens if the speaker does not allow motion?" he asked.

'No-trust move invalid till leave is granted'

Meanwhile, Justice Ahsan remarked that the "no-confidence motion is not valid until leave is not granted by the speaker."

Responding to these remarks, Naek argued that the speaker had permitted the presentation of the resolution of the no-trust motion.

CJP Bandial inquired what does it mean to grant leave and asked who allows presenting the resolution — the speaker or the House.

At this, Naek responded that the House allows presenting the resolution instead of the speaker.

"Does the speaker have the authority to disallow presenting the resolution and what happens if the speaker doesn't allow it?" asked Justice Akhtar.

He added that it was in the proceedings of the Assembly that the speaker could reject the resolution.

Meanwhile, CJP Bandial asked if April 3 was not fixed for a debate on the no-confidence motion, so "how could a date be fixed for direct voting without holding a debate on the no-trust motion?"

He added that a debate must be carried out over the issue for three days before going towards voting as per the rules of the National Assembly.

At this, Naek informed the court that the speaker didn't allow debating on the motion despite PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari's request.

"Not allowing debate is a procedural defect," Justice Ahsan remarked at Naek's response.

To this, Naek responded that it was not a procedural defect. When asked by the court whether it was constitutional manipulation, Naek responded in the affirmative.

Naek argued that the speaker does not have any authority to deem the no-confidence motion illegitimate.

Discussing Sunday's session, the court inquired under which rule did the speaker cite while calling the motion off.

Naek told the court that the speaker gave rulings under Rule 28.

At this, Justice Akhtar remarked that only the speaker can give and take back the ruling under the rule mentioned by Naek.

"The speaker can give a ruling in the House or in his office," the judge said.

He further stated that the speaker gives the deputy speaker the authority in writing but the latter can only preside over a meeting of the Assembly.

During the hearing, CJP Bandial directed Naek to argue how the deputy speaker's ruling is illegitimate.

The Chief Justice asked how the speaker could give a ruling on whether the motion was legal or illegal. "Does the speaker have no authority to reject the no-confidence motion?" he asked.