Unconstitutional ruling by Deputy Speaker

Benjamin Franklin once said “the Constitution gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

Our political process has become too tainted, and we have failed to develop a strong political convention that is sine qua non for democracy. With the PTI’s landslide  victory in hotly contested 20 by-elections in Punjab, all eyes were on Friday’s run-off elections for the slot of Punjab Chief Minister as many observers were of the view that its outcome would set the tone for the future of the country’s politics

Ch Pervaiz Elahi, a joint candidate for the PTI and PML(Q), secured 186 votes against his rival Hamza Shahbaz who clinched 179 votes in the House but the Deputy-Speaker unconstitutionally turned the tides in favour of the minority candidate by  rejecting the 10 votes of the PML(Q). He ruled that PML(Q) members’ votes will not be counted in the light of party head Shujaat Hussain’s letter. The ruling of the Deputy Speaker is both unconstitutional and not warranted by law. He misconstrued the  Supreme Court ‘s interpretation of Article 63A of the Constitution. For clarity, Article 63A and its interpretation in the Presidential Reference is produced below:

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Article 63A (1) states that ” If a member of a Parliamentary Party composed of a single political party in a House – – (b) votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs in relation to – – elections of the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister;or a vote of confidence or no- vote confidence; he may be declared in writing by the Party Head to have defected from the political party, and the Party Head may forward a copy of the declaration to the Presiding Officer and the Chief Election Commissioner and shall similarly forward a copy thereof to the member concerned”.

Article 63A’s interpretation by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Presidential Reference also deserves a special mention here. Para 3 of the Supreme Court ruling states that “it is our view that vote of any member (including deemed member) of a parliamentary party in a House that is cast contrary to any directions issued by the latter in term of para( b) of clause 1 of Article 63A cannot be counted and must be disregarded, and this is so regardless whether the Party Head, subsequent to such vote, proceeds to take, or refrains from taking, action that would result in declaration of defection”. Putting together Article 63A and its interpretation by the Apex Court one can clearly infer that when it comes to the election of Prime Minister or Chief Minister or  vote of confidence resolution or no-confidence resolution, the members of the Parliamentary Party are bound by the directions issued by the latter. The role of the Party Head will come into play after the members of the Parliamentary Party act contrary to the directions. Therefore, in given circumstances, the Parliamentary Party of the PML(Q) had issued directions to its parliamentary members on July 21 to attend the session of the Punjab Assembly and vote for Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, candidate for Chief Minister Punjab

The Deputy Speaker has no jurisdiction to disregard the directions of the parliamentary party to its members, and give utmost importance to the letter issued by the Head of the Party that came into his notice just an hour before the election.  In the light of what has been discussed above the entire exercise of the Deputy Speaker is unconstitutional and unlawful

With the country already plunged into a constitutional, political and economic crises, the unconstitutional action taken by the Deputy Speaker Punjab Assembly has undermined the democratic and constitutional process which will push the nation deeper into political chaos and further widen divisions in society.

Tussle between the government and the opposition, bad governance, rising food and commodities prices, increase in inflation, current account deficit , depleting foreign exchange reserves and unannounced load shedding have pushed the economy to the brink and exacerbated the anguish of the masses . It is clear that the country is facing huge internal and external challenges, and further political instability will descend the country into an un-ending financial crisis. Given the current situation, the political and constitutional crises are deepening in the country and free and fair elections are the only solution to end this crisis.

In these critical times, the judiciary has to play its part to preserve the constitution, democracy and security of the state as no other institution except judiciary has such a pervasive influence on so many aspects of the daily life of a citizen and also on that of the government. It must declare the Deputy Speaker’s ruling unconstitutional and ensure that the vote of PML(Q) members must be counted. No one can be allowed to make a mockery of the Constitution and law. The country has already suffered a lot and it is time to haul old wounds and keep away from inflicting new ones.The political tug of war will not bring victory to any side.

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Mian Rauf
The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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