Pakistan awaits SC verdict on Imran’s fate

Islamabad, April 7 : The Pakistan Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict for a few hours on a suo motu case concerning the legality of National Assembly deputy speaker’s ruling and subsequent dissolution of the NA by the president on the Prime Minister’s advice. The verdict will now be announced at 7.30pm (7 pm India time). In anticipation of the verdict, security has been heightened at the apex court premises with television footage showing riot police deployed outside the court, Dawn reported. A five-member bench headed by CJP Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, Justice M b Akhtar and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail heard the case. Earlier, during the hearing, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said it was clear that the April 3 ruling of National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri, which dismissed the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, was erroneous. “The real question at hand is what happens next,” he said, adding that now the PML-N counsel and the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan would guide the court on how to proceed. “We have to look at national interest,” he said. Right before the bench reserved the verdict, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif was given the rostrum. At that point, CJP Bandial referred to the situation in Sri Lanka and said that the country didn’t even have money for electricity and other basic facilities. “Today, the value of rupee against the dollar has reached Rs190 (in Pakistan). We need a strong government. This will be a very difficult task for the opposition leader,” Justice Bandial said. Shehbaz said he hoped that when the deputy speaker’s ruling was suspended, the no-confidence motion would be revived, adding that if the Speaker’s ruling is declared nullified, the dissolution of assembly ends automatically. “I have one request … Restore the NA,” Shehbaz said. “In our history, the law has been broken several times. This situation was created because blunders (of the past) weren’t identified and rectified. For the sake of God and Pakistan, the court should restore the parliament,” he requested. “Let us vote for the no-confidence motion.” Shehbaz also presented the “Charter of Economics” in court. He said that in 2018, dollar was valued at Rs125. “Today, it has reached Rs190.” He added that the parliament should be allowed to do its work and the members be permitted to take their decisions. Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhe observed that the opposition wanted to conduct elections from day one, inquiring what the issue was now. “The problem concerns breaking of the Constitution,” Shehbaz pointed out. To this, Justice Mandokhe replied: “We will repair the Constitution.” Here, PML-N lawyer Makhdoom Ali Khan said that the prime minister had announced he would give a surprise. “Such things shouldn’t be said.” To this, the CJP Bandial replied: “We have clarified our decision on surprise.” The chief justice also noted that the opposition had always demanded new elections. “Why aren’t you agreeing today?” At this, Shehbaz said that the joint opposition would, together, make electoral amendments to ensure transparent elections. “The common man is miserable. We want to work for them and provide them relief.” The AGP said that everyone wanted a premier elected by the people, not the assembly. “Would those who overthrew Imran Khan spare Shehbaz Sharif?” he asked. AGP Khan went on to say that if the opposition’s election demand was being fulfilled, they should let that happen. “We know,” CJP Bandial said to this. The PML-N lawyer, however, alleged that the AGP’s concluding remarks sounded like a threat. “The stock market has crashed, dollar is expensive and rupee’s value has fallen,” Makhdoom Khan pointed out. The court observed that these were all economic problems. “But who created them?” Makhdoom asked. To this, the CJP said: “I don’t think we are sitting here to give answers to questions.” The PML-N lawyer contended that politics was changing every day. “Apart from dissident MNAs, the opposition has 177 members.” Upon order of the CJP, the PML-N lawyer gave details of opposition members in the NA party-wise. Makhdoom remarked that he had an idea the court would debate the issue of elections in the end. “I knew that it was not possible to defend the ruling of the speaker.” He added that the Haji Saifullah case was an example. “It is not possible that the speaker’s ruling is suspended and the assembly’s dissolution not retracted.” “It looks like you have come prepared on this point,” the CJP remarked. The AGP, while giving arguments, claimed that the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan was “dismissed” on March 28, when leave was granted to table the resolution. According to him, it was important to show the support of majority at the time of tabling the resolution. Since the opposition had 161 members in favour of tabling the motion on March 28, the AGP said the move had failed then and there. Justice Muneeb Akhtar replied that according to this line of argument, if 172 members (majority) had approved the motion, the prime minister would have been ousted. To this, the AGP said the three to seven days mandated by the Constitution before a final vote on the resolution was to give the prime minister a chance to win back angry lawmakers. However, the CJP, at this point, said that at the leave grant stage 172 members were not required. “They are required at the time of the voting.” He then added that if the speaker approved the resolution on March 28, then “it’s the end of the topic,” noting that the speaker’s counsel said his ruling can’t be reviewed. If that’s the case, the AGP said, then the case is over since on April 3, the same speaker passed the ruling to dismiss the motion. But Justice Bandial said that he wanted to hear from the AGP on the main issue which was dissolution of the National Assembly. “The assembly was dissolved only after the no-confidence motion was dealt with,” Khan said. We have to see, the CJP said, the time difference between dissolving the assembly and the ruling of the speaker. Here, Justice Mandokhail said that the court could not decide on the basis of circumstances and results. “Court has to pass a verdict keeping the Constitution in view,” the judge said. “This way … any speaker who comes tomorrow will do as he pleases.” The AGP, at this point, said that he wasn’t defending the speaker’s ruling. “My concern for now are the new elections.” Earlier, AGP Khan — who was the last to give his arguments — began by informing the court that he would not be able to give details of the recent meeting of the National Security Committee in an open courtroom. He asserted that the court could issue an order without questioning anyone’s loyalty. He argued that prime minister was the “biggest stakeholder” and, therefore, had the power to dissolve the NA. “The prime minister does not need to give reasons for dissolving the assembly,” the AGP contended. He also pointed out that the assembly would stand dissolved if the president did not make a decision on the prime minister’s advice within 48 hours. He argued that voting on the no-confidence motion was not the fundamental right of a lawmaker. “The right to vote is subject to the Constitution and assembly rules,” Khan said. He also pointed out that if the NA speaker suspends a member, they cannot approach a court against it. “Are you trying to say that voting on the no confidence motion is subject to the rules,” the CJP asked, to which the AGP replied that all proceedings, including the no-confidence motion, were carried out in accordance with the rules. The AGP said that there was no “firewall” that gave complete imm ty to parliamentary proceedings. “The court will decide the extent to which parliamentary proceedings can be reviewed,” he said. The AGP pointed out that the court could intervene if the speaker declared a person with the minority number of votes to be the prime minister. At this, Justice Akhtar remarked that the Speaker was the caretaker of the House. “The speaker is not there for his personal satisfaction. The speaker can’t just give his opinion and ignore the members,” he observed. The AGP replied by saying that political parties play an important role in a parliamentary system of government. However, he pointed out that it was the assembly that had a term limit, not its members. “One individual has the power to dissolve the assembly.” During the hearing, Justice Mandokhe said that even though Suri announced the April 3 ruling which dismissed the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, it was signed by Speaker Asad Qaiser. He made the observation as Suri and Qaiser’s lawyer, Naeem Bukhari, presented his arguments. Responding to the judge’s statement, Bukhari replied that perhaps the documents given to him might not be “original”. Justice Mandokhe also pointed out that the minutes of the parliamentary committee meeting, which were submitted to court by Bukhari, didn’t prove if the deputy speaker was present. Continuing, Justice Mandokhe asked whether the foreign minister was present during the parliamentary committee meeting, noting that his signature was not included in the record. “Shouldn’t the foreign minister have been present?” the judge asked, which prompted the lawyer to admit the minister should have been present. At this, CJP Bandial pointed out that the name of the national security adviser at the time, Moeed Yusuf, was also not included in the record. “When assemblies were dissolved in the past, the election process was not stopped even though it was declared unconstitutional,” he said, asserting that the speaker could reject the no-trust move on a point of order. “This has never happened before but the speaker has the power (to do so).” Justice Mandokhe asked which law stated that the speaker had the power to dismiss the no-confidence motion. “We want to understand the definition of a point of order,” he said. “The question is whether a new point of order can be taken up once the no-confidence motion is introduced,” the CJP said. Justice Akhtar also asked if the point of order was included in the day’s agenda. “Voting on the no-confidence motion is a constitutional requirement,” Justice Mandokhe pointed out. Can the rules be used to invalidate the constitutional right to vote, he wondered. “Shouldn’t the opposition have been given a chance to [respond] to the point of order?” the CJP further asked, to which the lawyer replied that it could not be debated. Bukhari also presented the minutes of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, during which contents of the ‘threat letter’ were shared with parliamentarians. Talking about the briefing given to the committee, Bukhari said that the NA body was told that there would be consequences if the no-trust motion failed. During Thursday’s hearing, Senator Ali Zafar, the president’s counsel, was asked if the prime minister was the people’s representative. The lawyer replied in the affirmative. He was also asked if the premier would be protected if the Constitution was violated in parliament. “Is Parliament not the guardian of the Constitution?” he asked. He also questioned how justice would be awarded in case someone is affected due to parliamentary proceedings. At this, Zafar replied that the Constitution must be protected in accordance with the rules it underlines. He said that in order to protect the Constitution, each and every article had to be kept in mind. Justice Bandial then asked what would happen when an injustice was carried out against the entire assembly, not just one member. “Can Parliament interfere if there’s a conflict between judges,” Zafar offered as a counter argument. “The answer is no. The judiciary has to settle the matter. It can’t interfere just like Parliament can’t (interfere in judges’ matters).” The CJP also asked whether the formation of the federal government was an “internal matter” of Parliament. Zafar said that the no-confidence motion and the prime minister’s election fell within the ambit of Parliament. He said that the National Assembly is formed for the purpose of appointing a speaker and a prime minister. He also referred to former PM Mohammad Khan Junejo’s case, who was dismissed by ex-president Gen Ziaul Haq. “Junejo’s government was dissolved and the court declared it unconstitutional,” Zafar pointed out, adding that the court did not interfere in actions taken after the dissolution of the assembly. However, Justice Miankhel said that the matter at present concerned the no-confidence motion. “A ruling came after the motion. Address this issue,” he told Zafar. CJP Bandial also said that the verdict he was referring to was related to the oath. “Here the matter is about the ruling, not the oath. We have to draw a line somewhere.” However, Zafar argued that in this case too elections were announced after dissolving the assembly. At one point, the CJP asked Zafar why he wasn’t explaining whether or not there was a constitutional crisis in the country. “If everything is happening according to the Constitution, where is the crisis?” he asked. Zafar replied that he was also saying the same and there was no constitutional crisis in the country. The CJP also observed that there seemed to be a violation of Article 95. He noted that holding elections cost the nation “billions of rupees”. However, Zafar argued that the announcement of the election showed there was no malice behind the government’s move. Justice Mandokhail questioned whether the prime minister could still advise the president to dissolve the assembly if a majority of the members were opposed to it. Justice Ahsan noted that the PTI still held the majority despite the recent defections. “But what if the majority party is ousted from the system?” he wondered. Zafar replied that the president’s counsel couldn’t comment on political matters and ended his arguments. ING

Leave a Comment