With the Opposition submitting a no confidence motion in the National Assembly there is intense jockeying for political advantage in Pakistan. This is not surprising as over the past 1 1/2 years or so the main opposition parties under the umbrella of the Pakistan Democratic Movement have been attempting to get rid of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Mr Khan is now fighting with his back to the wall as the opposition is reported to have mustered the numbers for success of the No Confidence Motion in the National Assembly that is 172.
The government has now got into action and is attempting to derail and defeat the no confidence motion in the National Assembly by political maneuvering.
Government Strategy in National Assembly
The Government strategy to defeat the NCM is for the Members of the National Assembly of the PTI and its allies to remain absent from on the day of voting on the no-trust resolution. Thus, the Party plans not to attend the national assembly session which will be chaired only by the Speaker.
Senior minister and a close aide of PM Imran, Asad Umar, talking to Geo News, reiterated this strategy indicating that the opposition had to show the support of 172 MNAs.
Apparently if the government members do not attend this figure cannot be achieved as even if some dissident members of the PTI such as the Jahangir Tareen faction attend they are proposed to be disqualified by the speaker for crossing the floor and acting against the party whip.
There could be a judicial issue arising for as per Article 63-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, 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 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".
This is being interpreted by the Government as implying that the votes by the PTI dissidents who attend the national assembly in favour of the NCM can be rejected by the National Assembly Speaker as they would be regarded as dissidents. Thus the opposition will be unable to achieve the magic figure of 172.
However Lawyer Reema Omer tweet quoted by the Dawn indicates that Article 63-A was being "twisted" by some of her colleagues to argue that the party head could declare the dissident MNAs had defected even before the voting takes place so the NA speaker could then disregard their votes.
She argued that "such interpretation is disingenuous, desperate, and clearly against text of relevant laws + SC judgments".
Who succeeds in this game of one upmanship in the National Assembly remains to be seen?
Role of the Army
In a tight political situation between parties in Pakistan the Army has the last say. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on March 11 claimed that the Army supported the government.
"In our constitutional scheme, the army has to stay with the government," Chaudhry said at a press conference in Islamabad today. "The army has to follow the Constitution, and it will follow the Constitution," as per Dawn News.
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar on the same day during a media briefing when questioned rejected that the Army played any role in politics. “I had clearly stated in my last press conference that the army has nothing do with politics,” he replied. “It is this way and it will remain this way." He also requested that there "be no unnecessary speculations about this now".
What are the Stakes?
The outcome of the NCM will decide what will happen in the July 2023 National and Federal
Assembly elections as well.
If the Imran Khan government survives the no confidence motion the opposition will have no option but to wait and watch till elections are held in Pakistan as scheduled on July 2023.
However, if the no confidence motion succeeds then varied options emerge.
First is possibility of an early elections none of the parties presently seem to be prepared for an early election so that option may not be really on the table for now.
Secondly there could be an interim government which will be led possibly by Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz.
A former Prime Minister Mr Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is one of the leading candidates. The other major party Pakistan People’s Party has expressed no objection to the PMLN leading the government once the PTI is deposed from power.
However, the new government will have immense challenges to face particularly on the economic front where the petrol prices and inflation is going up each day. This will mean that it will go into the next elections on the anti incumbency factor?
All in all Pakistan is facing turbulent political flux in the coming days.