Pakistan Politics: The numbers game

By Tahir Khalil

ISLAMABAD: In order for the impeachment move against President Pervez Musharraf to succeed, it is necessary for the government to have the support of 295 members in a combined House of 442. The National Assembly has a total of 342 members and the Senate 100 members.

Eight clauses of Article 47 of the Constitution relate to the impeachment of the president. In order to table an impeachment motion, signatures of at least half the members of the National Assembly or the Senate must in practice be presented to either the Speaker of the National Assembly or the Chairman Senate. It is also necessary to ensure the presence of at least two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly and the Senate at the time of voting.

The number of members required to gain a two-thirds majority in both houses is 295. If an impeachment motion is presented against the president, the signatures of at least 172 members of the National Assembly — that is half in a House of 342 ñ will be required as well as 50 members of the 100-member Senate.

The Constitution stipulates three conditions for moving an impeachment motion against the president. Article 47 (1) states a) mental or physical disability; b) violation of the Constitution and c) serious misconduct.

Members will have to provide in writing and with signatures the details of the accusations against the incumbent. As soon as the chairman Senate receives such a notice he will immediately dispatch it to the speaker of the National Assembly. Within three days of receiving it, the speaker will send a copy of the notice to the president

Rules for a joint sitting of parliament will then be issued and eight clauses of Article 47 will be included in the rules. Under Article 47 (5) the speaker must call a joint sitting of both houses of parliament between seven and 14 days. Under Article 47 (6) the House will either order an investigation or itself investigate the charges framed in the notice. According to constitutional experts, because there is no precedent in South Asia for the impeachment of a president there are, therefore, no historical traditions for such an act. That is why either a committee can be formed to investigate the charges against the president or the entire House can investigate the charges. According to constitutional experts, there is nothing in the Constitution or the rules for a joint session that stipulates a timeframe for debate or the passage of such a motion. It is, therefore, possible for the motion to be debated for a full week or more or even one day a week for several weeks.

Article 47 (7) gives the president the right, either during the investigation or before the joint sitting whichever is relevant, to defend himself personally or through a representative. The president is free to nominate any MNA, senator, the attorney-general or a constitutional expert to defend himself.

Article 47 (8) focuses on the numbers required to impeach the president. It is stipulated that at least two-thirds of the combined strength of both houses must vote in favour of the motion to force the president to step down. The president must immediately step down should such a motion be successful. The Constitution and the rules of a joint sitting are silent on the mode of the acceptance of the impeachment motion and there is no precedent available to follow. However, experts state that a show of hands for voting is not acceptable. The speaker will have to determine the procedure for counting of votes and it is likely that the same procedure will be adopted as that for the election of a prime minister ie a division will be carried out in parliament and every vote will be recorded.

According to the latest party position in the National Assembly Secretariat, the ruling coalition has the support of 251 members while the opposition has 88 members. In NA-42 there has been no polling due to the law and order situation. In NA- 41 and NA-123 a stay order has been issued by the court. Therefore, there are three seats still vacant in the National Assembly.

The entire impeachment issue is now a numberís game. The government needs the support of 295 members. However, if the president can muster the support of 150 members the ruling coalition will fail to get the required majority.

Currently, there are members of the PPPP who are secretly opposed to the impeachment move. Makhdoom Amin Fahim has only recently come out openly against removing the president. It is being speculated that at least three to four PPPP members, if not more, might support him.

Even if some members of the ruling coalition absent themselves on the day or show a lack of interest, the president has everything to gain. Similarly, even if a majority is unlikely to support the president, only a handful of Fata members may well tip the balance should they support the president come voting day.

The same situation exists in the Senate. The combined strength of the PML-Q in the Senate was 54 when it was in power. Now its number is down to 53.

The JI and the PKMAP may be siding with the opposition on many issues but their position on the impeachment move is still not clear.

Three independent senators —- Gulzar Ahmed Khan, his son Waqar Ahmed Khan and and Mukhtar Ahmed Khan —- are backing the PPPP. However, the three enjoy close personal ties with the president and may not vote against him.

The PML-Q Forward Bloc in the Senate is also divided. Senators Amjad Abbas and Shahid Iqbal are likely to support the impeachment move, while Nilofer Bakhtiyar and Badini are likely to oppose it.

It seems from this that the numbers in the Senate might fall short for the government

According to constitutional experts.

There is no provision in the Constitution that bars the president from using Article 58 (2b). However, when such a move is challenged in the Supreme Courtit could well be rejected because it could be seen as a mala fide act. There is no provision in the Constitution that allows the president to halt the impeachment process by referring it to the Supreme Court.

According to most observers, the political situation in the country will not allow the use of Article 58 (2b). However, some observers claim that it is the presidentís right to dismiss the assemblies but that this move

can be challenged in the Supreme Court.

In any case, the move to impeach the president is bound to lead to an interesting situation. At least eight to ten members from the PML-Q can support the impeachment motion whereas seven or eight Makhdoom Amin Fahim supporters in the PPPP could stay away from voting against the president.

According to sources, the ruling coalition enjoys the support of 251 members but their number is restricted to 39 in the Senate. That gives the government a figure of 290 members in a joint sitting. If the JI and the PKMAP support the impeachment move (with their combined strength of eight in the Senate) it will go up to 298. The required number for the impeachment to succeed is 295.

The crucial question now is: how many former supporters of President Musharraf can the ruling coalition win over and vice versa and at what cost. That can only be clear on voting day.

PARTY POSITION IN NA

Pakistan Peopleís Party Parliamentarians 125

Pakistan Muslim League-N 91

Pakistan Muslim League-Q 54

Muttahida Qaumi Movement 25

Awami National Party 13

Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal 7

Pakistan Muslim League-F 5

National Peopleís Party 1

Balochistan National Party-A 1

Pakistan Peopleís Party-Sherpao 1

Independents 16

Total 339

Vacant 3

Number of seats 342

Party position in senate*

Opposition

Muslim League-Q 38

Muslim League-F 1

PPP-S 3

Ind 3

NPP 1

MQM 6

JUI 1

TOTAL 53

Government

PPPP 10

Muslim League-N 4

JUI-F 13

ANP 2

JWP 1

IND 7

BNP 2

TOTAL 39

*The Jamaat-e-Islami has five and PKMAP three seats in the Senate. These parties are neither formally part of the government or opposition

Source: The News, 8/8/2008

Leave a Reply