The Supreme Court’s Opinion

The Supreme Court’s verdict on the question of whether dissident members of a parliamentary party could cast votes against their party’s directives has in many ways shaken the already precarious political set-up that has been in place since Prime Minister Imran Khan was voted out. While it appears that the Shahbaz Sharif government has decided to complete its short tenure and the National Assembly and new cabinet may still last its term, the power play of the situation has very much changed and the ball is not in PML-N’s court anymore.
In many ways, this decision has left us with a lot more questions than answers, and this is reflected in the fact that two judges of the five-member bench dissented from the majority verdict. Firstly, this is a major precedent that the Court has set—one which does not find a previous citation on. It has changed the way we look at Article 63 and the Vote of No-Confidence—the verdict essentially makes any initiative for a Vote of No-Confidence defunct in every government where one party has a simple majority, and Article 58 of the Constitution appears to apply only in case of coalition governments, as PTI’s was.
The honourable Court may have left this game-changing precedent, but it did not follow up with the technicalities that remain. It remains to be seen whether this verdict will be applied retrospectively or prospectively, leaving a big question mark on the validity of Hamza Shahbaz’s Chief Ministership. Moreover, this verdict has brought confusion about the jurisdiction of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Previously, disqualification under Article 63 would occur at the discretion of the ECP upon a petition by the party head. Now it remains to be seen whether this process may be followed or dissident parliamentarians are automatically disqualified—or perhaps, since their vote doesn’t count to begin with, the proceedings to disqualify also do not apply.
Nevertheless, it is hoped that this verdict does not lead to further political rivalry and instability, which is the last thing the country needs considering the fiscal crisis we find ourselves in. Unfortunately, this does not seem likely considering the political power play we might see with PML-N in the centre and a possible PTI government in Punjab.

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