The dismissal of the no-trust motion against PM Imran Khan, with the government terming it as being disloyalty to the State, leads to a political crisis in Pakistan. Through the dismissal of the no-trust motion, the National Assembly Deputy Speaker endorses the claim of the PM that a foreign conspiracy was behind the move to oust his government. At the same time, the President has dissolved the National Assembly on the PM’s advice – against whom a motion of no-trust was pending for voting.
Can a no-confidence motion be disallowed and rejected on the grounds of ‘foreign conspiracy’ in a parliamentary democracy? Can the President dissolve the National Assembly on the advice of the Prime Minister when a motion of no-confidence is pending against the Prime Minister?
A brief analysis of the relevant provisions of our constitution provides an answer.
Article 95 provides that, “[a] resolution for a vote of no-confidence…may be passed against the Prime Minister by the National Assembly […]”. Article 48 (1) provides that, “[i]n the exercise of his functions, the President shall act[on and] in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet [or the Prime Minister][…]” Article 58 (1) states that, “[t]he President shall dissolve the National Assembly if so advised by the Prime Minister […]” Explanation to Article 58 (1) states that, “[r]eference in this Article to “Prime Minister” shall not be construed to include reference to a Prime Minister against whom a notice of a resolution for a vote of no-confidence has been given in the National Assembly […]”.
The Speaker’s Ruling states, “[…]to me it is now clear that there has been blatant foreign interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan and there exists a close nexus between such foreign interference and the campaign to oust and remove the democratically elected government […]”. Thus, the Speaker disallows the no-confidence motion claiming to preserve, protect and defend democracy and the constitution and to protect national independence, pride and dignity.
The current no-confidence motion is dismissed by invoking Article 5 of the constitution. This article states that “Loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen and that obedience to the Constitution and law is the inviolable obligation of every citizen […]” The government considers that the joint opposition has collaborated with a foreign state and is sponsored to change the regime in Pakistan. Thus, on the basis of this allegation, the opposition was disallowed to cast a vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister.
With due reverence, such an interpretation and application of the constitution makes a mockery of constitutional democracy. It makes Article 95 of the constitution redundant. Such a subjective interpretation of constitutional provisions makes ousting of a Prime Minister through a no-confidence motion impossible. Any government can name opponents as ‘traitors’ and thus block them to participate in a no-confidence motion. Such a charge sheet may not be envisaged against parliamentarians desiring to exercise their constitutional right to vote in a no-confidence motion. Further, during the pendency of a no-confidence motion, the Prime Minister’s right to advise the President to dissolve the National Assembly ceases. Even though if the President acts on such advice, it offends Article 58 (1) of the constitution.
The honourable Supreme Court has, thus, timely taken suo-motu notice of the situation in the country as it involves a question of public importance concerning the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the citizens (Article 184). It may be argued that the SC cannot inquire into proceedings of Parliament. Article 69 provides that, “[t]he validity of any proceedings in Parliament shall not be called in question on the ground of any irregularity of procedure […]”.
It is submitted that rejecting a no-confidence motion on the ground of ‘foreign conspiracy’ is not a matter of procedural irregularity. It is an important question of constitutional law. It is a matter of constitutional interpretation of the aforementioned articles and the protection of fundamental rights. The Speaker does not have the jurisdiction to decide on the legality of a motion. If the decision of the Speaker is found legally incorrect and mala fide, it can be set aside by the SC. Thus, all orders and actions initiated by the PM, the President, and the Speaker’s Ruling remain subject to the court order. It is the constitutional role of the judiciary to interpret the constitution. The executive has no business interpreting the constitution.
In any case, an exercise of a constitutional mandate such as a vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister may not be equated with a foreign conspiracy without proof. An allegation of foreign conspiracy in outing the government and the alleged collaboration of the opposition in this conspiracy requires a thorough investigation by the appropriate forum or authority under the law. Constitutional mechanisms meant to safeguard democracy and a constitutional rule cannot be made hostage to mere claims. Without rigorous probe and solid proof of political claims, the operation of Article 95 may not be allowed to be jeopardized.
Any apprehension regarding the motive of a non-confidence motion must be thrashed in parliament and/or proved in a court of law. In case the PM’s claim is proved, those responsible should be held accountable. In the absence of such proof, however, no one can be permitted to assault on the constitution and to destroy Pakistan’s relations with other countries on flimsy grounds. In a constitutional democracy, all institutions have specified roles. So, pending the investigation of the PM’s claim, let’s the judiciary perform its role to interpret the constitution. It would promote democracy and constitutionalism in Pakistan.