Pakistan is stunned. Ahead of the vote of no-confidence, the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had repeatedly hinted that he had a “trump card” up his sleeve. There were indications all along that something might be amiss: even as political pundits and the media confidently predicted Imran Khan’s defeat in the vote of no-confidence, he seemed unperturbed.
No one could have guessed that his last ploy would involve having the democratic order burnt down by a democratically empowered party. With the parliamentary process pulverised on the orders of a leader who continues to hold it in deep contempt, Pakistan has been thrown into the dark abyss of a constitutional crisis. It seems, in retrospect, that the captain had planned to play this dastardly card all along.
It came as a rude shock: it takes quite the fall for a self-proclaimed “fighter” to display such unsportsmanlike behaviour. By tearing up the rules of the game instead of “playing till the last ball”, Khan has dealt a fatal blow to constitutionalism and given rise to the strongest concerns yet that he may not be suited to hold public office within a democratic order.
Whatever happened in Pakistan’s National Assembly on Sunday violated all rules governing proceedings in the House, particularly those dealing with the motion of no-confidence.
It was obviously staged: it was clear as the Assembly convened that the opposition had the numbers to oust the PM. Before the motion could be put to vote, however, the newly appointed law minister rose to record an “objection” on the basis of Article 5 of the Constitution, which quite benignly states that “loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen”.
The deputy speaker – who had to chair the proceedings as the opposition had moved a motion of no-confidence against the speaker as well – accommodated the objection with indecent haste. Without a shred of proof that the motion had anything to do with the loyalty to the state of any of its movers, the deputy speaker dismissed the motion on the grounds that it had contradicted Article 5.
Shock and awe
Before the nation could process the shock, Imran Khan – who had been conveniently absent from the session – was on national television. In a pre-planned broadcast, he “congratulated” the nation on the “failure” of the motion of no-confidence and revealed that he had already written to the Pakistan President to dissolve the Assembly so that fresh elections could be held.
He had been constrained from playing this hand earlier as, constitutionally, he could not have dissolved the Assembly while a vote of no-confidence was pending against him. His request was, again with indecent haste, admitted by the President, who then promptly dismissed the National Assembly.
If Khan’s shocking decision to choose Pervaiz Elahi over his own loyalists for the country’s Punjab province chief minister slot appeared to be a departure from principles, his actions yesterday showed that he also lacks the mettle or patience to be the leader he aspires to be.
He could have played the political game like a true sportsperson and still emerged stronger from the loss given the sharp narrative he had spun leading up to the vote. Instead, he chose to thrust the country into a constitutional crisis. The President, too, failed to act with wisdom: instead of looking into the constitutionality of the entire process, he acted as an Imran Khan loyalist and sullied his office with his partisan decision.
The matter is now for the Supreme Court to decide. Meanwhile, some factions seem quite eager to push the narrative that since a fresh election has already been announced, matters should be left to stand as they are. Since the ouster of the government and fresh leadership in Parliament was what was desired by all political parties, so be it, they say.
However, this line of argument must be resisted at all levels as it seeks to legitimise every unconstitutional measure taken to force this outcome. The Supreme Court will hopefully provide an adequate remedy for the wrong that has been done and remind all parties that there is only one path to holding any legitimate power, and it will always lie through the Constitution. Anything else would be unacceptable.
This article first appeared in Dawn.