Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial said on Monday the assembly’s “wars” should be fought in the assembly as the Supreme Court heard a case related to public gatherings of the opposition and the government in the federal capital — ahead of the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan.
A two-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Bandial, and comprising Justice Muneeb Akhtar, heard the Supreme Court Bar Association’s (SCBA) plea seeking the apex court’s intervention to prevent “anarchy”.
Three bigwigs of the opposition — PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman — along with other opposition leaders were present during the hearing.
At the outset of the hearing, the lawyer representing SCBA said that the NA Speaker has summoned the assembly session on March 25 while it has to be convened within 14 days of the submission of the no-trust motion under Article 95.
“The court is not convinced on interfering in the NA’s affairs. It only wants that no one’s right to vote is affected,” CJP Bandial remarked during the hearing.
Listening to the arguments by the SCBA counsel regarding the delay in the voting on the no-confidence motion, which was filed on March 8, the CJP said that “these are the internal matters of the assembly,” adding that it would be better to fight these battles inside the assembly.
The petitioner’s lawyer highlighted that under Article 95, the speaker of the National Assembly has to summon a session within 14 days from the time when the no-confidence motion is filed.
Regarding the voting on the no-confidence motion, CJP Bandial said that the SCBA wants the lawmakers to have the choice to vote for whomever they want.
However, he said, the question is whether the personal choice of an MNA can differ from the party policy.
The SCBA’s lawyer argued that all the MNAs should have the right to vote freely. At this, Justice Muneeb Akhtar inquired about the article under which lawmakers can vote freely.
Responding to the query, the SCBA’s lawyer said that the MNAs elect the speaker and other officials of the assembly under Article 91.
“If someone is casting his/her vote how can someone say that it is not their right to vote,” Justice Akhtar said, asking the SCBA on which article the body has based its case.
“All of this is the assembly’s internal matter and it will be better that it is settled in the assembly. We do not want to go into details of this matter,” the CJP said as the SCBA sought to stop the gatherings.
CJP Bandial, asking the political parties what did they want the court to do in this matter, noted that the judiciary could only play a mediator’s role in political matters for the betterment of democracy.
The court stated that party workers cannot be brought to the capital to stop lawmakers from casting their vote during the session on the no-confidence motion.
“Sit together and form a consensus […] choose a place other than D-Chowk,” the CJP advised the political parties.
CJP Bandial said that a larger bench will be formed on the presidential reference, and ordered a hearing on it from March 24.
He further said that all parties should submit their responses in writing regarding the reference.
COLLECTIVE RIGHT: Highlighting relevant laws for voting, Justice Munib Akhtar said that Article 17 is regarding the formation of political parties.
He said that under Article 17, the rights belong to political parties while according to Article 95, the right to vote belongs to political parties.
He added under Article 95(2) individual votes have no legal status, highlighting that vote is considered collective right after joining a political party.
He said that according to Article 95(2) of the Constitution, which deals with the procedure to bring in a no-confidence motion against the prime minister, a member’s individual vote had “no status”, adding that the court had previously made similar observations in cases related to former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
SENIOR LAWYERS’ OPINION: According to senior lawyers — Abdul Moiz Jaferii and Barrister Salahuddin Ahmed — this observation by the learned judge, if taken to its logical conclusion, would mean that lawmakers cannot vote against party lines during no-confidence proceedings against the premier and if they do, their vote may not be counted and/or they may face disqualification. Both lawyers said they did not agree with this interpretation of the Constitution.
They, however, said it was difficult to read Justice Akhtar’s mind from a single observation and pointed out that the court had not issued a final order on the issue as yet.
Jaferii said not allowing a lawmaker to vote against party line in a no-trust motion was a “restrictive” reading of the Constitution, but added that the judge’s reasoning behind the observation, which will become clear once a written order is issued, could shed more light on the matter.
Justice Akhtar made the observation during the hearing of a presidential reference filed by the government, asking the top court for its opinion on Article 63-A of the Constitution, which deals with disqualification of a lawmaker over defection. The court was also hearing a plea filed by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), seeking its intervention to prevent “anarchy” and to direct all state functionaries to act in accordance with the Constitution and the law ahead of the no-trust vote against Prime Minister Imran Khan.