- Top court says Article 63-A cannot be interpreted alone, asks Parliament to legislate on the issue of disqualification
The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday announced that parliamentarians cannot vote against their party policy, adding that the votes of dissident lawmakers will not be counted, Aaj News reported.
The court, issuing its verdict on the presidential reference that sought its interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution, which pertains to the disqualification of lawmakers over defection, said that the "article concerned cannot be interpreted alone."
The verdict by the top court was a 3-2 split decision, with a majority of the judges not allowing lawmakers to vote against the party line in four instances outlined under Article 63-A. These four instances are the election of a prime minister and chief minister; a vote of confidence or no-confidence; a Constitution amendment bill; and a money bill.
The court further announced that the parliament should legislate to decide on the issue of disqualification of dissident lawmakers.
The verdict noted that defection could "derail parliamentary democracy and destabilise political parties".
The top court also said that the rights of political parties had been underlined in Article 17, while the objective of Article 63-A was to prevent defection.
Reacting to the development, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Fawad Chaudhry said that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz should resign after today's verdict.
"Both the federal and provincial governments are gone," Fawad said, urging President Dr Arif Alvi to dissolve all the assemblies.
Earlier, a five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail completed proceedings of the case.
Ahead of its ouster, the PTI government had filed a presidential reference, which sought the top court's opinion on Article 63-A of the Constitution.
In March, the SC formed a larger bench to hear the presidential reference, which deals with the "legal status of the vote of party members when they are clearly involved in horse-trading and change their loyalties in exchange for money."
The reference had asked the top court if a member who "engages in constitutionally prohibited and morally reprehensible act of defection" could claim the right to have his vote counted and given equal weightage or if there was a constitutional restriction to exclude such "tainted" votes.
The reference had also asked the court to elaborate whether a parliamentarian, who had been declared to have committed defection, would be disqualified for life.
Earlier, during the course of the hearing, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said: “For the progress of the country, a stable government is needed,” adding that “the [game of] musical chairs that has been taking place since the 1970s must end.
According to Article 63 (A) of the Constitution, a parliamentarian can be disqualified on grounds of defection if he votes 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 or a Constitution (amendment) bill”.
The Article says that the party head has to declare in writing that the MNA concerned has defected but before making the declaration, the party head will provide such member with an opportunity to show cause as to why such declaration may not be made against him.
After giving the member a chance to explain their reasons, the party head will forward the declaration to the speaker, who will forward it to the chief election commissioner (CEC).
The CEC will then have 30 days to confirm the declaration. If confirmed by the CEC, the member “shall cease to be a member of the House and his seat shall become vacant”.