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Illegality of Convening NA’s Maiden Session

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
President Arif Alvi has gracefully surpassed his tenure, exceeding by nearly five months without facing any imminent threats to his presidency. Even amidst a hostile environment following the ousting of Iran Khan’s government in April 2022, President Alvi’s tenure has been marked by resilience and astuteness. Joining the President’s House as Media Advisor and Press Secretary in May 2022, I witnessed firsthand his adept navigation through the complexities of the presidency. With a blend of sagacity, patience, and tolerance, he steered the ship of state through challenging waters, making critical decisions with finesse and minimal disruption.
Now, President Alvi’s sagacity faces another test as he endeavors to assist the PTI in reclaiming its lost reserve seats for women and minorities in both the provincial and national assemblies. His leadership and strategic acumen has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in this endeavor.
Amidst the overwhelming force of the state machinery aligned against it, the PTI finds itself in dire need of assistance. Despite reluctantly joining the Sunni Ittehad, a move that diluted its distinctiveness and eroded its brand power, the party remains embroiled in a losing battle to secure reserve seats for women and minorities. Even with its integration into the Sunni Itehad, the prospects of obtaining these reserved seats are exceedingly dim.
President Alvi’s calculated strategy held promise for the PTI in its quest to secure reserved seats. However, it is undeniably a high-stakes gamble fraught with uncertainties and potential repercussions. Yet, in the face of formidable odds, President Alvi’s decisive action offered a glimmer of hope for the PTI’s aspirations.
President Alvi’s argument is most likely based on Article 91(2) of the Constitution of Pakistan, which states that the first session of the National Assembly should be held within 21 days following a general election, “unless sooner summoned by the President”.
The ambiguity arises from the interpretation of “unless sooner summoned”. Which if read with the general scheme of the constitution means that the president can call the national assembly session either within 21 days or sooner but in no case later than 21 days, but, the meter is downed only when national assembly is complete including the reserved seats of women and minorities.
This interpretation provided the President with the argument that the National Assembly cannot be considered fully constituted until all seats, including reserved seats, are allocated. This interpretation could imply that it’s his discretionary power to delay the session until the assembly is “complete”.
The ECP, the government and other major political parties like PML(N) and PPP vehemently opposed President Alvi’s stance, arguing that he was overstepping his constitutional role contending that the allocation of reserved seats was an administrative matter separate from the summoning of the National Assembly.
The ECP other stakeholder aligned to ECP’s stand emphasized the 21-day constitutional mandate for convening the National Assembly session after general elections and stressed that it was the President’s duty to uphold this mandate regardless of delays in allocation of reserved seats.
In Pakistan, allegedly, the foundational principles of the constitution and the rule of law have been sidelined, as the establishment has assumed the control of the Election Commission, parliament, government, and the judiciary. Their apparent singular objective appears to be diminishing the size, influence, and significance of the PTI in the upcoming assemblies to the point of insignificance.
Following the surprising electoral mandate handed to the PTI by voters, it seemed that the establishment had effectively waged a campaign to undermine the party. The initial gains made by the PTI in electoral processes were swiftly reversed through tactics such as the deliberate slowing down of internet and mobile services after 10 pm on election day. This maneuver resulted in a reversal of fortunes for PTI candidates who were initially leading, transforming them into unexpected losers.
Moreover, successful PTI candidates found themselves besieged with a barrage of court cases and relentless harassment, compelling many to either retreat into hiding, adopt a dormant stance, or defect to other political parties under the guise of independence. These tactics earlier not only deprived the PTI of its election symbol but also stripped it of reserved seats for women and minorities, exacerbating the challenges faced by the party in asserting its political presence.
The astute move by the President, seemingly aligned with constitutional principles, was met with a countermove that appears to be unconstitutional. The Speaker of the National Assembly has called for the assembly’s maiden session on 29th February, purportedly bypassing the President and accepting the requisition of the session signed by the Prime Minister. This action disregards the fact that as an interim prime minister, he is not a member of the assembly. While the Prime Minister heads the executive branch, equivalent to the National Speaker, the President holds the authority over the National Assembly. Without the President’s explicit consent and directives, convening the national assembly’s maiden session is procedurally inappropriate.
The unilateral convening of a National Assembly session without the President’s consent not only raises the specter of legal disputes but also amplifies the risk of political instability. Amidst this turmoil, the President’s intervention could potentially aid the PTI in its quest to secure reserved seats for women and minorities. Success in this endeavor would bolster the PTI’s political prowess, enhancing its capacity to advance its legislative agenda.
The expeditious allocation of reserved seats would not only demonstrate the PTI’s commitment to inclusive governance but also serve as a reassurance to its voters and supporters. Furthermore, it would furnish the PTI with valuable leverage in political negotiations with other stakeholders.
Conversely, failure in the legal battle would deal a significant blow to the PTI on multiple fronts. Already having relinquished its identity by aligning with the Sunni Ittehad, the party would further diminish in stature within the National Assembly. Consequently, its bargaining power would dwindle, severely hampering its ability to assert influence in political affairs.
Moreover, this diminished status would impede the PTI’s efforts to secure the release of its incarcerated leaders, including the chairman, thereby compounding the challenges facing the party.
As we confront the aftermath of the session called without presidential summoning, it becomes imperative to scrutinize its legality and the resulting credibility of the convened assembly. Article 91(2) of the constitution unequivocally mandates that the first session of the National Assembly must be summoned by the President, a constitutional requirement not to be overlooked. The ramifications of sidestepping this crucial provision raise questions about the legitimacy of the assembly and the decisions it may undertake.
The potential for a protracted legal battle looms large, as conflicting interpretations of constitutional provisions sow seeds of discord between institutions. This clash of institutions threatens to further destabilize an already fragile political landscape, exacerbating tensions and eroding public trust in the democratic process.
In response to this breach of constitutional protocol, voices of dissent are likely to grow louder, with the PTI and other political parties refusing to recognize the outcome of the election results. A groundswell of public movement, fueled by a sense of injustice and disenfranchisement, may emerge as a potent force for change, demanding accountability and adherence to constitutional norms.
In navigating these turbulent waters, it is imperative for all stakeholders to prioritize the rule of law, respect constitutional mandates, and uphold the principles of democracy. Failure to do so risks plunging Pakistan into deeper political turmoil, undermining the very foundations upon which its democratic institutions are built. Now more than ever, unity, dialogue, and a steadfast commitment to constitutional principles are essential to chart a path towards a more stable and inclusive future for all citizens

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