The morning after: What if no-confidence motion against Pakistani PM goes through?

The morning after: What if no-confidence motion against Pakistani PM goes through?

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What will happen if the no-confidence resolution against the Prime Minister is successful in the National Assembly?

This question has become important after the no-confidence motion has been formally placed on the agenda of the National Assembly sitting of Monday, March 28. There is an almost equal chance of success or failure of the motion at this stage. Since failure of the motion will not produce changes in the governance set up, the larger question is about the developments in case the motion is passed.

When the Assembly meets on Monday, one of the 147 movers of the motion will be asked to seek leave of the house to move the no-confidence motion. If the leave is granted by the house and the no-confidence resolution is formally moved, the possible dates for voting on the motion will be locked. It will then be at the discretion of the speaker to fix any date from April 1 to 5 for a vote on the motion. If 172 or more members in the house support the motion on the day of the voting, the PM, borrowing the phrase of the constitution, “shall cease to hold office.”

Since the Prime Minister is the Chief Executive of the country, the position can’t stay vacant for long and a new PM who commands the confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly will have to be elected without delay. In all likelihood, the requisitioned session of the National Assembly will be prorogued by the Speaker immediately after the vote on the no-confidence motion. It is expected that the President of Pakistan will immediately summon a new session of the Assembly the next day. The president, using the powers prescribed in Article 94 of the constitution, may ask the outgoing PM to “continue to hold office until his successor enters upon the office…” In case the vote of no-confidence is successful, the atmosphere will be so much vitiated by the bitterness generated in the process that it would be necessary to keep the interim arrangement for the shortest possible time.

Pakistan has never faced this scenario in its political history and the next two weeks will be a testing time for democracy in the country.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob

In the past, the head of state used to invite a member of the National Assembly to become PM who, in the opinion of the head of the state, commanded majority in the house. The PM so chosen would then seek vote of confidence from the Assembly within a prescribed time. This practice, in vogue in many parliamentary democracies, led to manipulation by heads of state on several occasions in Pakistan and finally a constitutional arrangement was agreed upon to elect the PM in the house rather than leaving it to the judgment of the President.

The process for the election of the PM is spread over two days. On the first day, the nomination papers of the candidates for the PM’s office are invited, received and scrutinized and on the second day, the polling takes place. The election takes place through an open system in which each voter identifies himself/ herself and the candidate he/she is voting for. Each member will be made to pass through an entrance of the Assembly Chamber where Assembly staff will record the voting member’s name.

If there is a single candidate, he/she will have to secure minimum 172 votes which represent the majority of the total membership. If there are more than one candidate, the winner will need to secure minimum 172 votes.

In case no candidate is able to secure minimum 172 votes in the first round, a very extraordinary constitutional provision of Article 91 (4) will kick-in. This provision requires that a run-off poll is held between the two candidates who secured the highest number of votes. In the run-off polling, the winner will be required to secure only the majority of the members present and voting and the condition of securing majority of the total membership of the assembly will no longer apply. The idea, probably, is to not hold up the process of electing the new PM and fill the vacuum at the earliest.

The entire process for the election of the PM will be conducted by the National Assembly Secretariat under the supervision of the Speaker National Assembly. This provision may offer another challenge as the incumbent speaker belongs to PTI and the opposition has repeatedly accused him of blatant partisanship.

The period spanning the process of a no-confidence motion and a fresh election of the PM, in case the no-confidence motion is successful, may offer quite a few challenges in view of the bitter polarization between the ruling party and the opposition and given the fact that Pakistan has never faced this scenario in its political history. The next two weeks will be a testing time for democracy in Pakistan.

- Ahmed Bilal Mehboob is the president of Pakistan-based think tank, PILDAT. Twitter: @ABMPildat

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view