EDITORIAL: It is heartening to note that the ‘outgoing’ prime minister has criticised the Supreme Court verdict only mildly, stating, inter alia, that he has deep respect for the judiciary whom he considers as the “guardians” of justice. His may sound like a minor complaint, but he remarked that the apex court , which suo motu decided to hear the matter, ought to have taken the ‘threat letter’ into its consideration before reaching any conclusion.
Moreover, his address to the nation last night clearly indicated that he has accepted the inevitable — the likely success of the no-trust motion against him filed by the opposition. Voting on it has been ordered by the apex court (National Assembly is scheduled to meet today to hold vote on no-trust motion against the PM). In other words, he has reiterated his ‘fighting for Pakistan till the last ball’ resolve by indicating that he would be assuming the mantle of Leader of Opposition against the Shehbaz Sharif-led government, although he did not elaborate on this point.
There is little or no doubt about the fact that his speech was strongly characterised by a deeper sense of dejection and frustration for things did not improve for him even after he had successfully dodged his ouster on April 3, although he needed to have humility to accept the writing on the wall from the day one.
Be that as it may, the eagerly awaited verdict of the Supreme Court on Thursday trumped the ‘trump card’ the government had played to escape no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, restoring status quo ante. In its unanimous decision a five-member bench of the court headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial declared that the Speaker’s ruling in relation to the no-confidence resolution was “contrary to the Constitution and the law and of no legal effect and the same are set aside.” Rightly ignoring political dimensions of the issue before it, the court confined itself to constitutional aspects of the case. The short order, nonetheless, is silent on Article 69 of the Constitution that says “the validity of any proceedings in Majilis-e-Shoora (Parliament) shall not be called in question on the ground of any irregularity of procedure”. The detailed judgement is expected to explain reasons for it.
Also missing from the verdict is the ‘illegality’ of the Speaker’s ruling he gave under Article 5 of the Constitution on the basis of a diplomatic cable, purportedly, containing evidence of opposition’s collusion in a foreign conspiracy for regime change. The lawyers appearing on behalf of the government argued that the Speaker had relied on the assessment of the National Security Committee (NSC) and also presented before the court minutes of the NSC meeting which, apparently, authenticated contents of the diplomatic cable. The legal procedure for proving the validity of that allegation, however, was not initiated at the right time and through proper process. The court therefore correctly concerned itself with the issue that came as rude shock to the government. Meanwhile, as per the court order, the Speaker has summoned the National Assembly session for Saturday (today) to start the no-trust proceedings and hold the vote on the opposition’s no-confidence motion.
The result is predictable. The opposition has more than the requisite number of MNAs on its side, excluding deserters of the ruling party. Yet political wrangling is unlikely to end any time soon. Imran Khan has, once again, expressed his resolve to fight to the last ball. The one option he could have used to scuttle the outcome of the court order is to have the PTI MNAs’ resign from the assembly en masse, creating serious problems for the new prime minister. But if the experience of the opposition parties in this regard is anything to go by some, if not many, of the ruling party legislators may refuse to go along. In its immediate reaction, however, the government has announced its decision to form an inquiry commission to examine the diplomatic cable it used to make its conspiracy case, and also to seek review of the SC verdict.
The way forward for Imran Khan is to accept whatever comes his way, and focus his attention on the next general elections. In fact, when the SC bench called a representative of the Election Commission of Pakistan to inquire when could the electoral body hold polls it seemed to favour immediate elections. Whether or not that was a consideration, the ECP said it required at least four more months to complete its constituency delimitation work, which could be completed by October. The opposition has also made known its intention to call fresh elections at about the same time. In any event, it is hoped leaders and their supporters on either side of the political divide will peacefully abide by all constitutional requirements in the greater interest of all.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022