The Pakistani constitution provided for a parliamentary system of government where the Cabinet is responsible to the parliament, which is a superior organ of the federal government. it is to say that the executive and legislature are sharing power with each other. The Cabinet consists of the “Cabinet of Ministers, with the Prime Minister at its head,” [Art. 91 (1)] to run the state apparatus. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet can continue to hold the office until the pleasure of the confidence of the majority of the member of the House [Art. 91 (5)]. Not less than 20% of the total membership of the National Assembly can move a vote of no-confidence against a Prime Minister [Art. 95 (1)], who would cease to hold the office if the resolution of no-confidence is passed by the majority of the total membership of the House [Art. 95 (4)].
In the pre- and post-vote-of-no-confidence scenario, the government has three constitutional options to be used: First, on the grounds of defection, to get those members disqualified who intend to vote against the Prime Minister. Second before the submission of a resolution of no-confidence, the Prime Minister can advise the President to dissolve the Assembly. Third, in case of the success of a no-confidence move, the President can dissolve the Assembly and announce fresh elections. What follows is a navigational map of the three options that the government has at its disposal.
First, if a member of a parliamentary party “votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs, in relations to a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence,” he/she may cease to be a member of the House after following the procedures mentioned in the Article for the disqualification of a member on the grounds of defection [63-A (1-B)]. Disqualification on the grounds of defection can result in two ways: first, it would prevent the members of the government party to vote against the party line; second, if they still do so, it would bring about a constitutional crisis resulting in the dissolution of the Assembly.
Second, the Prime Minister enjoys the right to advise the President for the dissolution of the National Assembly. Article 58 reads that the “National Assembly shall stand dissolved at the expiration of forty-eight hours after the Prime Minister has so advised” [Art. 58 (1)]. However, the Prime Minister can use this power before the submission of a resolution for a vote of no-confidence against him, [Art. 58 (1)]. The Article further explains that a Prime Minister against whom a resolution for a vote of no-confidence has been submitted cannot advise to dissolve the National Assembly.
Third, the President can dissolve the National Assembly, if, in his opinion, after the passage of a no-confidence vote, no other member of the Assembly is likely to secure the confidence of the majority of the members of the Assembly [58 (2-A)]. This happens if the Federal Government is unable to continue in accordance with the constitutional mandate and an appeal to elections is considered necessary [58 (2-B)]. In case of the dissolution of the Assembly, “a general election to the Assembly shall be held within a period of ninety days after the dissolution” [224 (2)].
In the national media, there has been an extensive debate over the number game required for a no-confidence move. Some are of the view that the opposition is likely to win, while others believe that the government is going to continue in office. What is missing in this entire debate on the no-confidence move is the fallout on the governance of the country and on ordinary peoples’ lives. It is yet to be explained as to what this no-confidence move would bring that is fruitful for the level of governance, democratisation and welfare of the country and the common people.
The parliamentary history of the country shows that it is not a matter of change of faces, but of the reforms from within and continuity of the system. The historical trajectory of Pakistan has shown that we get nothing fruitful out of changes of individuals or faces. The tragedy of our country is that we have not strengthened the institutions.
In democracy, the parliament is considered a central institution of the state. The strength of parliament is a key to institutional democratisation. A strong parliament can serve as a weightier overseer of the executive, i.e. the government. It can hold the public representatives responsible to the voters. The political parties and other stakeholders should bring about constitutional reforms not only to strengthen the parliament but also to increase the level of democracy in the country. In addition, electoral reforms, freedom for civil society and decentralisation of power are of great importance.
If the political parties fail to strengthen the parliament, the people would soon come to a point where they consider it a waste of their votes. If, on the other hand, a strong parliamentary system is established, the people will no longer be looking for an abrupt and artificial regime change.