Politics of defection

Published: March 14, 2019
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Arshad Vohra has been disqualified as union council member, and thus as Karachi’s deputy mayor, by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Vohra had, in last October, switched to Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) after his election as deputy mayor, and this change in loyalties formed the basis for his disqualification that came on a petition filed by Farooq Sattar, who then led the MQM-P.

Despite a constitutional bar, switching loyalties — referred to as floor crossing — has made its way into the national politics, with lawmakers hardly caring about its political and legal ramifications. Our political history is witness to the fact that whenever our legislators have the intention to cross the floor, they find a way out. Remember the like-minded group within the parliamentary party of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the National Assembly that came into being after the 1997 elections; and the breakaway faction of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), called the Unification Bloc, which had changed its loyalties to rest with the ruling PML-N in the Punjab Assembly that was constituted after the 2008 elections.

The bar on defections had been introduced into the 1973 Constitution under Article 63-A by the second government of Nawaz Sharif in the year 1997 “in order to prevent instability in relation to the formation and functioning of the government”. Even though the constitutional bar on defections has survived as many as seven constitutional amendments that followed the 14th, with slight changes regarding the definition of defector, it has failed to deter politicians from indulging in the unconstitutional practice of floor crossing, just as anti-corruption laws have failed to discourage political or bureaucratic corruption. And that means the fault lies in the non-implementation of the law.

The ECP verdict to disqualify Vohra must serve as a precedent to clean the national politics of the unconstitutional practice purely intended for personal and political gains.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2019.

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