The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is threatening the government with mass resignations from the National Assembly. But is this a real threat? Will it actually affect the current government? And will it really create a constitutional crises? Our correspondents spoke to legal fraternity and asked how they interpret this ‘threat’.
The opposition alliance believes that mass resignations would hamstring the government’s functions and put massive pressure on the ruling coalition, precipitating fresh elections. Government ministers, on the other hand, have dismissed the threat saying that Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) would not hesitate in holding by-elections to fill the vacant seats of the Parliament.
The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, welcomed the opposition’s decision to resign, “If they are really determined to resign, they should do it at the PDM meeting which is going to be held on Dec 8. Nobody will stop them from doing so,” he added that such tactics can not harm the government.
But the opposition is still barrelling ahead with its plan to resign by the end of the year; to what extent would the resignations actually harm the government?
In a conversation with The Correspondent, the former Additional Attorney General of Pakistan, Mr. Shah Khawar commented that any member can resign by the given procedures, and as per law an election is mandatory within 60 days. If the opposition resigns en masse, he added, PTI would still have 172 members in parliament; not only do they meet the quorum requirement but are also enough in number to pass laws and have a functioning parliament.
“Politically there would be panic. It would look like general elections, and the government would be under pressure. But since Imran Khan and PTI are enjoying a majority, the resignations won’t harm the government,” said Mr Kawar, “the only way the Parliament can be dissolved is if the Prime Minister does it.”
“However, during this time PTI can not bring a constitutional amendment as they would not have the numbers for it [⅔ of the parliament].”
Usman Ghani, a civil and constitutional lawyer, told The Correspondent, “It’s a bit ‘much ado about nothing’ unless the resignations manage to reduce down the NA’s members to less than a fourth of its total membership (which they cannot at present). Even then they would require a “sympathetic mover” in the Assembly, to draw the attention of those presiding towards the House’s failure to establish the necessary quorum. The Constitution clearly provides a solution for the case where a seat falls vacant by reason of resignation: a by-election within sixty days from the occurrence of vacancy”.
He expressed the same sentiment, that the resignations might not achieve anything for the opposition, and definitely not the objective of sending the government packing as they want to.
Sohail Hameed, Advocate Sindh High Court, said that the government cannot be changed by the resignations as there is no law on such a situation. If the opposition leaders submitted their resignations before the Parliament, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has the authority to conduct re-elections on empty constituencies.
“It is not possible that all the opposition’s members will resign at the same time, we are optimistic that very few MNAs or MPAs will resign on the request of PDM,” Sohail Hameed further commented.
However, other senior legal experts The Correspondent interviewed expressed some reservation regarding the government’s ability to hold mass by-elections during the pandemic.
Raja Aftab Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan claimed, “it is not possible for the government to conduct elections in a very short period of time on a large number of empty constituencies.” There would be a time limit to conduct re-election, which may cause trouble, he claimed.
He further said that so far the opposition is not sending their resignations to the Parliamentary Secretaries, instead they are submitting them to parties heads. The countdown of resignations should start when these resignations would be submitted to the Parliament in person, he claimed.
Adding in the same line, Kamran Murtaza, a senior Advocate of the Supreme Court, commented that this would have a political impact on the country aside from the obvious legal effects of the decision. Which, even if legally does not require fresh elections, might push the situation to such a reality due to the political impacts of it.
“Resignation is possible and has no ambiguity. The legal impact of this is the fact that it is possible to hold by-elections in one constituency, but in this situation more than 50% of the nation’s voters would be involved in by-elections. Holding by-elections on this great a number would create capacity issues, and the Election Commission would likely back out”.
This would mean that only half of the Parliament is elected and the other half is simply vacant, Mr. Murtaza added, “[the] Assembly’s legitimacy would be questioned. Earlier when PTI had resigned even then the Speaker did not accept it because of capacity issues and legitimacy of the legislature coming into question”
On the question of whether any amendments can be done during the by-elections (if they happen), he informed us, “No amendments can be done after resignations of opposition parties because there would be a vacuum given that the constitution calls for 2/3rd majority.
“Furthermore the other allies in the government coalition would be in a much stronger position to blackmail the PTI; the system would call for fresh elections”.
As opposed to what the opposition has been reciting, the mass resignations might not be as effective a strategy to cripple the government or move towards mid-term elections as the PDM hopes. The government can function in a parliament with 172 members. And even if the government does not hold by-elections, which would decrease confidence in the system as claimed by legal experts, the government seems unfazed by ideas of public confidence and has expressed resolve to function despite any challenges to its legitimacy.
Sarmad Iqbal, Anas Mallick, Arshad Hussain and Balach Khan contributed to this story.