Weeks after losing the no-confidence motion in Pakistan’s National Assembly, former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his close advisors continue to target not just Pakistan’s democratic credentials but also the issue of democratic dissent and the issue of defection.
In a column in Dawn, the President of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency (PILDAT) argues that “our Constitution allows broad liberty to legislators to make independent judgements regarding voting on legislation or electing certain office-bearers. Despite strong populist views to the contrary, the Constitution does not prohibit legislators from exercising their independent judgement while voting during the election of president, Senate chair and deputy, and speakers and deputy speakers. It is precisely to protect the independence of the legislators that elections to these positions are prescribed in the Constitution to be held through a secret ballot. The same goes for the election of senators. Despite the hype created in the last Senate election for an open ballot, the apex court, fortunately, did not agree with the PTI, and the secrecy of the ballot was preserved.”
Further, “While voting for or against a certain legislation, the Constitution does not bind legislators to necessarily vote in line with party direction except in two specific instances — a constitutional amendment bill and the money bill. In all other matters of legislation, the lawmakers are free to vote as they deem fit and there is no penalty for such independence.
Next, “There are two other types of voting in which legislators have to follow the party direction, otherwise they may lose their seats in the legislature for the remaining term. Legislators must vote for a candidate for the post of prime minister or chief minister as endorsed by the legislator’s party. The same is true while voting on a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence. Even in these four distinct cases, legislators have not been barred from voting against the party line.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob ends by noting “We should also be careful not to weaken whatever little democracy is available within political parties and not strengthen authoritarian tendencies in them in our one-sided zeal to curb what we call defection. We should learn to tolerate, rather respect, genuine difference of opinion within a party and not brand such an honest expression of one’s views as defection.”