A terrible idea for Pakistan’s former ruling party to resign from parliament

A terrible idea for Pakistan’s former ruling party to resign from parliament

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As soon as it became apparent that the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan could not be stalled any longer, he announced that all members of the National Assembly (MNAs) belonging to his party – PTI – would resign. As a result, 123 PTI MNAs tendered their resignations a day later. Of them, 32 of the total 155 MNAs did not resign either as an act of defiance to party direction or for other reasons. The acting speaker who was also a PTI MNA, instead of following the normal practice of individually verifying each resignation to ensure that it did really bear the MNA’s true signature and was tendered without coercion, decided to accept all resignations simultaneously and made the assembly secretariat issue a notification to this effect before himself resigning as Deputy Speaker and MNA.

Newly elected speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf expressed the intention right after his election to reverse the acceptance of the resignations and to verify each resignation. The constitution and Assembly rules do not prescribe a time limit for the verification process but last time when PTI MNAs had resigned back in August 2014, their resignations were kept pending by then Speaker Ayaz Sadiq for about seven months before refusing acceptance.

It is not yet clear whether PTI would ask about 300 of its legislators in four provincial assemblies to resign. The most critical case is that of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where PTI holds a two-third majority in the assembly and heads the government. Resignation of PTI legislators from the KP assembly may lead to the demise or at least paralysis of the assembly.

The key question is whether a step as drastic as resignations in such large numbers will actually help the PTI in any way.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob

As reported in the media, a majority of PTI MNAs were not in favour of resignations and had expressed their candid point of view in the parliamentary party meeting convened shortly before tendering the resignations. Reportedly, Khan had to threaten to resign alone if other legislators were not willing to. After this, there was little choice left for the legislators.

The key question however, is whether a step as drastic as resignations in such large numbers will actually help the PTI in any way. Apparently, PTI feels that the resignations will exert so much pressure on the government that it will be forced to dissolve the assemblies and call fresh election before ECP adjudicates on the explosive foreign funding case in about a month. PTI also expects that if Imran Khan is able to force the government to call early elections, the ECP judgment on the foreign funding case may be delayed and the dreaded worst-case scenario of PTI being declared a foreign-aided political party and dissolving it, may not materialize. There is, however, a very low probability of accruing such a benefit to PTI because the ECP has outrightly refused to hold elections before the next 7 months due to pending demarcation of constituencies based on the final results of 2017 population census. The suicidal mission of  resignations from the assemblies, therefore, may not be worthwhile for five reasons:

  1. First, after resignations from the assemblies, PTI will deprive itself the opportunity of influencing the choice of caretaker Prime Minister and caretaker Chief Ministers in at least 3 out of 4 provinces.
  2. Second, two vacancies in the 5-member election commission exist and these are supposed to be filled through consultations between leader of the house and leader of the opposition. In case of resignations, PTI will lose the position of the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly and thus any say in the selection of two EC members.
  3. Third, the appointment of the next Chairman of the all-powerful National Accountability Bureau (NAB) may also come up sooner rather than later as the incumbent is only there as a stop-gap arrangement. PTI will not be able to influence the choice of the next NAB Chair if it is not holding the office of the Leader of the Opposition.
  4. Fourthly, the current federal government plans to introduce electoral and accountability reforms but has not yet spelled out the details. The absence of PTI from the National Assembly will give a walkover to the government to institute whatever reforms it deems fit.
  5. And lastly, assemblies provide a great platform to articulate party positions not only for debate within the assemblies but also for relaying amplified messages to the general public through parliamentary proceedings covered by the media.

Imran Khan and PTI may still execute their street agitation plans if they like but it is not understandable that why the party should be deprived of such effective platforms as the assemblies, won after years of hard work.

-The writer is the president of Pakistan-based think tank, PILDAT; Tweets at @ABMPildat

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