The Resignation of the Prime Minister under the Constitution and Long March Politics

26 August 2014

The following note is a brief memorandum on Article 95 of the, oft-ignored, foundation document of Pakistan, the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 (the “Constitution”), long march politics and relevant examples from India.

A. The Constitution

(1) Article 95 of the Constitution provides as follows:

  1. Vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister.− (1) A resolution for a vote of no-confidence moved by not less than twenty per centum of the total membership of the National Assembly may be passed against the Prime Minister by the National Assembly.

(2) A resolution referred to in clause (1) shall not be voted upon before the expiration of three days, or later than seven days, from the day on which such resolution is moved in the National Assembly.

(3) A resolution referred to in clause (1) shall not be moved in the National Assembly while the National Assembly is considering demands for grants submitted to it in the Annual Budget Statement.

(4) If the resolution referred to in clause (1) is passed by a majority of the total membership of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister shall cease to hold office.

Article 95 provides the democratic procedure to remove the Prime Minister from his office if he loses confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly. In this respect a resolution for a vote of no-confidence is moved by not less than twenty percent (20%) of the total membership of the National Assembly. If the resolution is passed by majority of the total membership of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister immediately relinquished powers.

B. The History of Long Marches to Oust the Government in Pakistan

In Pakistan, “long march politics” has been witnessed during the regimes of elected governments since 1990. These have basically been exercised to bring about regime change, with the help of the army.

(1) 1992 – Benazir Bhutto formed the National Democratic Alliance and marched towards Islamabad from Lahore, against the government of Nawaz Sharif. The long march failed due to the lack of preparation from Bhutto and support from the then Chief of Army Staff (“COAS”), General Asif Nawaz.

(2) 1993 – Bhutto planned another long march against the Sharif Government. This time, more prepared, and with the support of COAS, managed to achieve the abdication of the President and the Prime Minister and elections within ninety (90) days.

(3) 1996 – Sharif became Prime Minister after the dismissal of Bhutto’s Government by President Sardar Farooq Ahmed. Bhutto formed the Grand Democratic Alliance in 1998 and initiated the long march with the support of the then COAS, General Pervez Musharraf and the United States government.

(4) 2009 – Sharif joined the hype of the Lawyers Movement and led a long march from Lahore to Islamabad for the restoration of the judiciary and the resignation of the government. The COAS, General Ashfaq Kayani however, asked him to call off the march before he had reached Islamabad, confirming that his demands had been met.

C. Examples under Indian Jurisprudence:

1. In 1971, after a re-election victory over the opposition, Indira Gandhi became the fourth Prime Minister of India. However, during the next few years she presided over increasing civil unrest brought on by food shortages, inflation, and regional disputes. Moreover, the Socialist Party hailed charges that she had defrauded the 1971 election leading to a national scandal. In 1974, the Allahabad High Court convicted her of a minor election infraction and banned her from politics for six (6) years. She, instead, refused to resign and declared a state of emergency, which allowed her to arrest dissenters, censor the press, restrict various personal freedoms, and rewrite India’s Constitution.

In 1977, long-postponed national elections were held, and Gandhi and her party were voted out of office by a clear majority. The next year, Gandhi’s supporters broke from the Congress Party and formed the Congress (I) Party, with the “I” standing for “Indira.” Later in 1978, she was briefly imprisoned for official corruption. In 1979, divisions with the ruling Janata Party led to the collapse of its government. New elections were held in January 1980, and the Congress (I) Party, with Indira as its head, won back the lower Indian parliament in a stunning reversal of its political fortunes. Gandhi again became prime minister. The legal cases against her were subsequently dismissed.

2. Important points to consider:

(1) Gandhi was voted into power by a clear majority in 1975;

(2) Due to flawed governance and a strong opposition, she was tried and convicted for electoral fraud by the Allahabad High Court and banned from politics for six (6) years;

(3) She refused to resign and instead declared a state of emergency which allowed her to control to affairs of the State and amend the Constitution;

(4) She was eventually voted out in the next elections, in 1977;

(5) With the collapse of the government in 1979, and the elections in 1980, her party won back the lower parliament with Gandhi as its head.

Corruption, including electoral fraud, was alleged in India against a Prime Minister who refused to resign. As no further action was permissible and/or effective under the laws of the country, she was able to refuse resignation, declare a state of emergency and mould the State to her favour. She was eventually voted out of office in 1977.

3. On 5 April 2011, Anna Hazare began his hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in Delhi as a reaction to the rejection by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of his request for the formation of a joint committee comprising government and civil society representatives. Hazare had wanted the committee to draft an anti-corruption bill containing stronger punishments and giving more independence to the Ombudsmen in the States). He said that he would continue the fast until the bill was passed and attracted considerable support, including about one hundred and fifty (150) people who joined him in fasting. No politicians were allowed to join in the fasting.

Protests spread to Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Shillong, Aizawl and a number of other cities in India. There were also gatherings in solidarity around the world, including Washington, London, Glasgow, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Paris and Houston.

The Government responded as follows:

(1) The resignation on 6 April of Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar from the group of ministers that had been charged with reviewing the draft bill.

(2) The realization of the demands by the Government on 8 April. The Government stated that it would table the bill in Parliament in the upcoming session.

(3) The government’s agreement to have an equal distribution of the Government appointed officials and the members of the civil society on 9 April.

(4) On 13 May, Prime Minister Singh stated that the Indian Government had completed the ratification of the UN Convention against Corruption.

The bill however, being week initiated another wave of Hazare’s “Infinate Fast” protests. On 1 August 2011, public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court of India by Hemant Patil, a social worker and businessman, to restrain Hazare, alleging that Hazare’s demands were unconstitutional and amounted to interference in the legislative process.

On 16 August 2011, Hazare was arrested four (4) hours before the planned hunger strike. After four (4) hours in detention he was released unconditionally on a request by the police, but refused to leave Tihar Jail where he demanded unconditional permission to fast at Ramlila Maidan. Hazare continued his fast inside the jail and continued to receive support from people across the country. His fast continued until he was hospitalized for weight loss and dehydration.

His supporters started the campaign known as “I am Anna Hazare”, with his cap (topi) becoming a sign of resistance and to be displayed whenever someone asked for a bribe.

In 2011, Hazare demanded an amendment to the electoral law to incorporate the option of “none of the above” in the electronic voting machines during the Indian elections. The “none of the above (“NOTA”)” is a ballot option that allows an electorate to indicate disapproval of all of the candidates in an electoral system, in case of non-availability of any candidate of his choice, as his right to reject. The Chief Election Commissioner of India, Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi supported Hazare’s demand for the electoral reforms.

_____________________

Myra Khan is a Barrister-at-Law from the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and Vice Chairperson Women Rights Committee of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. She is currently practicing law in Lahore, Pakistan.

Any queries may be directed to lawyereadia@gmail.com

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