Can the dissolution of Pakistan’s parliament be overturned?

Experts explain the implications of moves to block a no-confidence vote in Pakistani PM Khan and dissolve parliament.

Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan shout slogans outside the Parliament House building in Islamabad
Supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan shout slogans outside the parliament in Islamabad [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

The decision by Pakistan’s parliamentary speaker to block the no-confidence vote in parliament against Prime Minister Imran Khan, and the subsequent dissolution of the National Assembly, has triggered a constitutional crisis as the opposition plans to appeal against the moves at the Supreme Court.

The National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser ruled that the no-confidence motion violated Article 5 of the Constitution, which calls for loyalty to the state and constitution.

The opposition, which needed 172 votes to unseat Khan and his Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf-(PTI)-led government, now claims the support of 195 members of parliament.

Khan claims moves to unseat him are a conspiracy between the opposition and foreign powers.

President Arif Alvi dissolved the parliament on Sunday on the advice of Khan who also called for snap elections.

But Pakistan’s Supreme Court will hear the opposition’s appeal of the moves on Monday.

Al Jazeera spoke to constitutional experts and analysts to understand the current political crisis in the South Asian nation.

Salahuddin Ahmed – Supreme Court lawyer and constitutional expert

“I think the act of the speaker is clearly unconstitutional. His job is to count the votes, not to decide whether any of the opposition members is some part of a foreign conspiracy. He cannot just throw out a motion of no-confidence.

Normally, the speaker’s rulings are granted immunity from judicial scrutiny, but in case – where it’s beyond the jurisdiction of the speaker – the courts can intervene.

And in this case, they probably will. I don’t recall any elected civilian government in the past making such a brazenly unconstitutional move. What has effectively happened today is that the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has replaced the will of the parliament with the whim of the speaker.”

Salman Akram Raja – Supreme Court lawyer

“There is a provision in the constitution, Article 69, that says courts are not to look into the matters on the floor of the House, but there are exceptions.

And we have precedence in the past where the ruling by the speaker has been set aside by the Supreme Court. Article 5 of the constitution says that you will obey the constitution and be loyal to the constitution. This has nothing to do with the resolution in the House. For the speaker to say he has decided this resolution is based on disloyalty is a nonsensical position. There is no softer word I can use.

If there is disobedience of the constitution and an attempt to subvert the constitutional process at the behest of a foreign power then you need proper proceedings under Article 6 of the constitution that proves treason.”

Zaigham Khan – Political analyst

“[The dissolution is] a blatant violation of the constitution and can lead to a very serious crisis.

There are two possibilities, I think. Firstly, the Supreme Court of Pakistan will order the speaker to go ahead with the no-confidence motion. In that case, the PM’s advice for dissolving the Assembly will become invalid.

Another scenario is parallel to the case of former Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo who was ousted by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988.

Junejo went to the Supreme Court, which agreed with him that his government was dissolved unconstitutionally. But court said that since elections were announced, it was best if Pakistan moved ahead with the elections to get a new mandate. That’s another example from history, but it doesn’t seem very probable to me.”

Benazir Shah – Senior journalist

“Pakistan seems to be in the grip of instability and a constitutional crisis. What is dangerous is that the government itself, which is tasked to protect and implement the constitution and law, is comfortable violating the constitution to stay in power.

There was a fear, a few days before the vote, that the ruling party will use unconstitutional means to avoid the vote of no trust. As earlier the interior minister had suggested banning political parties or asking the Pakistan military to intervene.

The message from PTI seems to be: if we can’t rule, no one can.”

Source: Al Jazeera