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All Eyes on Islamabad

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All Eyes on Islamabad

Synopsis

The govt-opposition feud could culminate in ‘third force’ intervention, which would benefit neither

Clouds of political uncertainty and confusion loom large on the horizon in the federal  capital, and as feared, the situation turned violent on Thursday evening when the state machinery had to move in to flush out the members of Answarul Islam, the security wing of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl), from the Parliament lodges.

In the process, a few JUI-F and PML-N MNAs sustained minor injuries when they scuffled with members of the police force. A couple of dozen arrests of Ansarul Islam activists were also made, but they were released in the early hours on Friday.

The political temperature really started peaking with the March 8 tabling of a no-trust motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan by the joint opposition,  following which the PDM’s component parties summoned their Parliamentarians to Islamabad, directing them to stay at the Parliament lodges till the completion of the process.

The situation took an ugly turn when some 70 plus activists of the Ansarul Islam moved into the Parliament lodges, ostensibly to provide security to opposition members and to prevent any attempt made by the sitting government’s loyalists to kidnap their MPs ahead of the voting on the no-trust motion.

Despite several hours negotiations, the JUI activists refused to leave the Parliament Lodges, compelling the police force to come into action. They arrested around two dozen Ansarul Islam activists, and forced the others out of the Parliament Lodge premises. In the process, Senator Kamran Murtaza and MNA Saad Rafique, who started to scuffle with the police, sustained minor injuries.

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Otherwise known for its calm, Islamabad has witnessed extraordinary activity in the past couple of weeks, with back-to-back meetings by politicians, aligning their positions for the no-trust vote against the Prime Minister and the post no-trust scenario.

Meanwhile, the legal and constitutional minds in the government’s team have been equally busy, holding ongoing meetings to devise a strategy to frustrate the opposition parties’ no-trust move. And on the political front, Prime Minister Imran Khan has become ‘hyperactive,’  making every possible effort to keep his allies aligned with his government. To this end, he has held a series of meetings with coalition partners, including the PML-Q, GDA, BAP and MQM-P to secure reassurances of their support in this time of trial. In return he has had to offer them some quid pro quo. When he went to the MQM-P headquarters in  Bahadurabad in Karachi, he reportedly made some pledges and promises about meeting their long-standing demands.

Khan’s hand may be strengthened by the fact that it has not been all smooth sailing in the opposition’s ranks. PDM insiders disclosed to Bol News that the move of bringing in the JUI’s Ansarul Islam’s activists, ostensibly for the security of the opposition parties’ Parliamentarians, did not go down well with most of the component parties of the Pakistan Democratic Movement.

Sources in the Pakistan People’s Party said that the party leadership had strongly disapproved of these activists being brought to the Parliament lodges, and that is why they distanced themselves from the matter.

Now Islamabad’s residents may have to brace themselves for more action. Political observers closely monitoring the fast changes taking place in the political firmament said that another constitutional deadlock is brewing between the government and opposition, because the two groups are at complete odds in their interpretation of Article 63A of the constitution, which deals with the de-seating of Parliament members going against the party line, especially in the case of the impending no-trust move against Premier Khan.

A political observer commenting on the prevailing uncertain political situation in the backdrop of the no-trust motion said that both, the government and the opposition parties, are keeping their cards close to their chests and not disclosing their respective strategies. However, both groups are vociferously claiming to have the  requisite number of MPs with them vis a vis the no-trust move.

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Following the filing of a requisition for a National Assembly session along with the no-confidence motion by the opposition parties, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet colleagues have sprung into action, and unleashed a tirade against members of  the opposition parties, indicating how far they are prepared to go against the opposition in the coming days.

A veteran politician from one of the PDM’s component parties said that by adopting such an aggressive attitude the Prime Minister could further aggravate an already tense situation, and this could result in  disaster,  and prove detrimental to the entire political dispensation.

The tone and tenor of the opposition parties leaders has also been harsh, and in case of a deadlock, which seems imminent in the coming days given the rigidly opposing stances on the defection clause’s interpretation, it is feared things could slip into complete disarray and  pave the way for  ‘third party’ intervention, which could send the whole system packing.

Although the DG ISPR in his Wednesday press briefing once again reiterated that the army has nothing to do with the developments taking place on the political front,  observers say that the armed forces could be sucked in if a deadlock prevailed.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has decide that they, along with their coalition partners, will stay away from Parliament on the day of voting on the no-trust motion  and see if the opposition parties can muster the 172 MNAs needed to attain a simple majority.

The legal and constitutional experts on the government side have said that in case some ruling party Parliamentarian decided to vote against the party, the discipline defection clause would apply and the Speaker of the National Assembly would be asked not to count his vote. This interpretation of Article 63A of the constitution has been rejected by independent legal and constitutional experts, who are of the view that the defection clause cani definitely apply to any member breaching party discipline,  but the vote he cast against his party would be counted.

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Senior legal and constitutional expert, Advocate Shah Khawar said that, in his view, the Speaker could not reject the vote of a Parliamentarian if he voted against his party line. However, he added, the Speaker could initiate a disqualification process against the offending Parliamentarian if  requested by his party chief.

However, another legal expert, Faisal Chaudhry, was of the view that if the party leader requested the Speaker of the National Assembly in writing  to take action against a party MP who had violated party discipline, or had defected, the Speaker could reject that MP’s vote and not include it in the count.

And all the legal and constitutional experts are unanimous in their view that no action can be taken against the NA Speaker for his ruling. But, they add, a controversial matter like the case in hand can be taken to the apex court for interpretation and explanation.

Earlier, PTI MNA Ali Nawaz Awan had said that they would be calling a National Assembly session in a few days, and emphatically maintained that they would complete the entire no-motion exercise before the March 22 OIC Foreign Ministers Council moot in Islamabad.

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and a few other party MPs had also expressed  the same, but some sources in the party disclosed that nothing had been finalised, and the government would defer the matter till after the March 23 Pakistan Day Parade, when most of the foreign dignitaries had flown out.

Senior party leaders, including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, had reportedly advised the Prime Minister to avoid going for the no-confidence imbroglio ahead of a mega international event. He said it would  not be advisable as they could not afford to mess up the event.

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One of the leaders of a PDM component party, who did not take part in the opposition parties’ discussions and deliberations on the no-trust move, said that PDM had made a big mistake by bringing a no-trust against the Prime Minister. He contended they should have first ousted the Speaker of the National Assembly, who will now undoubtedly would create many problems for them.

Against this backdrop, political analysts said the situation could turn in any direction, and almost certainly, democracy and the country’s democratic institutions would be on the losing side.

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