PTI’s 168 number may not give Imran smooth sailing
ISLAMABAD: The PTI claims to be set for the formation of Imran Khan’s government at the Centre with 168 votes which, if happened, will be a unique case in the history of Pakistan and could be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Simple majority of the total membership of the National Assembly starts from at least 172 in the house of 342 but the PTI interprets the “total membership” as the number of MPs who take the oath of the National Assembly.
PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry on Monday, while claiming to have attained majority, excluded those seats from “total membership” where either election were not held or had been vacated by any member, who either wins more than one NA seat or opts to join a provincial assembly vacating the NA seat.
Fawad Chaudhry had claimed that the PTI had enough numbers to form the coalition government in the Centre as well as in the Punjab with 168 lawmakers in the National Assembly and 180 in the Punjab Assembly.
The PTI leader had pointed out that in two NA seats, elections were not held, 10 MNAs-elect had two or more seats of the National Assembly, while one was to be retained, and hence the 342-member National Assembly would be left with 328-30 members. On the basis of his interpretation of total membership which he counted 328 to 330, he claimed that the PTI has now the required “majority” of 168 members in the NA.
What the PTI suggests is unique and had never happened in the history of Pakistan. Legal minds have their own interpretations but in case the PTI forms the government with less than 172 votes, the issue is expected to be taken to the Supreme Court for interpretation.
Former Chief Justice (retd) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry when contacted said that the party claiming to have majority would require a minimum 172 votes to form the government. Referring to the Article 91 of the Constitution, he said that it is must to get at least 172 votes to elect the prime minister.
In case, he said, the candidate claiming to have the majority does not get the simply majority (minimum of 172 votes), the other contestant for the office of PM will be asked to prove his majority in a second round of voting. Chaudhry said that if even the second candidate does not get the required number of votes (172) in the second round of voting, there will be a third round of voting which will decide who will be the leader of the house on the basis of majority of votes of the members present and voting.
Former law minister Zahid Hamid also agreed that the situation we are now confronted with is unique and is thus being interpreted differently. He said that under Article 91 of the Constitution, on the day of election for the leader of the house in the National Assembly, in the first round, one of the contesting candidates will be supposed to get simple majority of the total membership of the NA which is 172.
He did not agree with the PTI’s interpretation of the words “total membership” of the National Assembly. Zahid Hamid said that the total membership under Article 91 remains 342 even if some of the NA seats are vacant because of any reason. He explained that in their parliamentary discussions, the total membership of the NA would always mean 342 number.
Another Constitutional expert and former Senate former chairman Wasim Sajjad, however, agreed with the point of view of the PTI that the words “total membership” would mean the total number of elected members of the House. He said that in his interpretation the “total membership” would not include the vacant NA seats.
The prime minister is elected under Article 91(4) of the Constitution which reads as: “(4) The Prime Minister shall be elected by the votes of the majority of the total membership of the National Assembly: Provided that, if no member secures such majority in the first poll, a second poll shall be held between the members who secure the two highest numbers of votes in the first poll and the member who secures a majority of votes of the members present and voting shall be declared to have been elected as Prime Minister: Provided further that, if the number of votes secured by two or more members securing the highest number of votes is equal, further poll shall be held between them until one of them secures a majority of votes of the members present and voting.”
The Article 91(4) clearly talks about the required majority of “total membership” for the election of the PM. However, its provisos then suggest what could be done if simple majority of the total membership is not available to any candidate.
These provisos apparently refer to the situation when there are more than two candidates contesting for the office of the PM and no one gets the clear majority (172). However, most of the legal experts interpret that these provisos will finally apply even in case there are only two contestants and no one gets clear majority (172).
Interestingly, all these interpretations of Article 91 are being made for the first time as the PTI claims to have majority with 168 members. The Article 94 deals with “vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister”, which will be deemed to have succeeded if have support of “a majority of the total membership of the National Assembly”. Here the majority again means at least 172 votes.