This article was published in Dawn on April 7, 2022 and is available at the following link
IT proved to be a fateful Sunday. The deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, who was presiding over a sitting called specifically to vote on the no-confidence motion against the prime minister, announced his shocking decision to ‘reject’ the motion, without a vote, and prorogued the session. This and the subsequent dissolution of the National Assembly, as well as the calling of snap elections by the prime minister, have triggered a major constitutional and political crisis in the country.
The magnitude of the crisis can be gauged by the fact that the chief justice of Pakistan and two of his colleagues rushed to the Supreme Court and convened the court immediately to address the extraordinary development, even on the judiciary’s day off.
The apex court has been hearing arguments about the constitutionality or otherwise of the Speaker’s pronouncement in day-to-day proceedings. At the centre of the debate is the question of whether the presiding officer had the authority to deviate from or, as some would prefer to put it, violate a constitutional procedure and time frame to remove the prime minister. A closely associated but much larger question is about the actual degree of the water-tight separation of the judiciary and legislative branches of government. To put it simply, does the doctrine of separation of powers prevent the judiciary from questioning the actions of a presiding officer of a legislature, even when an apparent violation of the Constitution has taken place?
It is expected that the Supreme Court’s verdict will provide answers to at least the legal and constitutional aspects of these questions. In the meantime, however, a debate on the authority of the Speaker and the possible limits on his authority is raging not only in the courtroom but also in the media and public spaces.