Reference seeking interpretation of floor-crossing law lands in top court

ISLAMABAD: The government petitioned the Supreme Court on Monday to seek a ruling on whether defectors from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party could lose their seats just days before the no-confidence vote against the prime minister.

The reference requests the top court to interpret Article 63-A of the Constitution which is related to disqualification of MPs on grounds of defection.

The reference was filed by Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan on behalf of President Arif Alvi who approved its filing under Article 186 of the Constitution earlier in the day.

Speaking after filing the petition to the Supreme Court, Attorney General Khan told reporters the government had asked it to advise why lawmakers who ditch their party and switch sides cannot be disqualified for life.

“The basic questions […] include will the dissident MPs be disqualified for life, […] what would be the significance of the votes polled by those MPs and will the vote of these MPs be counted or not,” he said.

Article 63-A, the law on floor-crossing, provides that MPs who defect could lose their seats if they then vote against their party, but the government aims to find out whether that also applies before they cast their votes.

“You know only murder isn’t a crime, an attempted murder is also a crime,” Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said last week.

Article 63-A reads that an MP can be disqualified on grounds of defection if they “vote or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relation to the election of the prime minister or chief minister; or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or a money bill (budget) or a Constitution (amendment) bill”.

The government has already indicated it will deploy the article to fight the motion.

The law, however, says the party head — Khan, in this case — has to declare in writing the MP concerned has defected but before making the declaration, they will “provide such member with an opportunity to show cause as to why such declaration may not be made against him”.

The office of Umar, who is also the party’s secretary-general, served the notices on some 14 legislators on Saturday, directing them to explain their position in a week.

The motion seeking the ouster of Khan was submitted to the office of the speaker on March 8. It accused him of mismanaging the economy and poor governance in the toughest challenge he has faced since taking power in 2018.

According to Article 54 of the Constitution, once a session of the National Assembly has been requisitioned with signatures of at least 25 percent of the MPs on it, the speaker has a maximum of two weeks to do the same.

Therefore, Qaiser had to call the House in session by March 22.

POLITICAL TURMOIL

The threat of political turmoil in the nation is growing as the opposition seeks to oust the prime minister.

Several PTI MPs withdrew their support for him on Thursday, stoking more uncertainty over whether the former cricket star can hang on to power, following a warning by Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi that the prime minister could lose his coalition partners.

Following the submission of the motion, Minister for Interior Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed told a news conference it had been decided to seek the Supreme Court’s ruling about whether the defectors are eligible to cast a vote after switching sides.

Ahmad said the decision was taken in a meeting chaired by Khan.

“I want to ask all of you to get back […] We wouldn’t do anything against you,” he said in an appeal to the dissidents.

NUMBERS GAME

With the help of several smaller parties, PTI holds a narrow majority in the National Assembly. It has 179 seats in the 342-member House, only seven more than required for a simple majority.

If none of the MPs from the ranks of the prime minister’s allies or the PTI vote against him, he will likely succeed. However, the PTI is currently facing a split because of an internal revolt by some members.

The opposition, on the other hand, has 162 members and needs a simple majority of 172 to topple the government.

Should Khan fail to win approval, the parliament will have to choose a new prime minister.

Khan has vowed to fight any move to unseat him. “Whatever they do, I’m ready for that,” he told a gathering in Islamabad last week.

No prime minister of Pakistan has ever completed his term in office.

— With input from Reuters

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