EDITORIAL: The defection of elected members, contemptuously called ‘lotacracy’, has been a lingering subject of public concern in Pakistan. Irrespective of the imperative which may oblige a defector to cross the floor he or she is branded as a ‘saleable commodity’ with critics often quoting the price that person purportedly received to betray his party.
There are, however, instances when monetary consideration has been the determining factor while voting on issues that are not governed by Article 63A of the Constitution. Elections to the Senate where the electoral college comprises the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies have witnessed such behaviour on numerous occasions.
So, to eradicate this evil, there have been a plethora of opinions, including applicability of Article 63A in the Constitution. Given his anxiety over defection of 26 members of Punjab Assembly, who had defected and voted in favour of the opposition candidate, President Arif Alvi had sought the advice of the Supreme Court under its supervisory jurisdiction.
The apex court has now come up with its advisory that is the view of three out of five judges on the bench whereas the remaining two justices have disagreed with the majority view. While the two dissenting judges find no reason for interpretation of Article 63A, the majority led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial says the said constitutional provision protects rights of a parliamentary party, and not of the defectors. “Political parties are an integral aspect of the bedrock on which our democracy rests…their destabilisation can potentially put democracy itself in peril,” says the court.
And the defectors’ votes through which Hamza Sharif, the then Leader of Opposition in the house, became the Leader of the House and therefore chief minister of Punjab, have been disallowed to be counted by the apex court.
Even when the court’s majority opinion is yet to be translated into concrete action by the Election Commission of Pakistan it has triggered a debate whether it would strengthen foundations of the democratic system by declaring defections a cancer, or it is negation of a member’s right to follow the dictate of his conscience.
Be that as it may, recalling what Justice Robert A. Jackson, a judge of the American Supreme Court, may not look out of place in these lines. He had famously quipped in the courtroom: “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are only infallible because we are final.”
The foregoing, therefore, begs the question what is the constitutional take on the vote of no-confidence? It is needless to say that a vote of no-confidence germinates within the ranks of ruling party or coalition. If it is snuffed out from there, the prime minister would tend to be dictatorial, inaccessible to his/her party members’ perceptions and perspectives on national issues of concern to the people. It would prevent party legislators from casting their vote according to their conscience.
That a political party is widely considered a core institution of democracy as it is expected to play a vital role in ensuring that democracy is promoted and protected within a society is a fact. But it is also a fact that there are so-called ‘electables’, who have their political constituencies and win elections not because of the party labels but by their own weight and potential is also a fact. Denying them their right to differ with party leadership on issues of their core interest would amount to being indifferent to preferences and issues of people who send them to the elected houses.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022