No by-elections will be held in any constituency after November 17 in case any lawmaker resigns, stands disqualified, or dies.
Under Article 224 of the Constitution, by-election for a constituency can only be held if the seat is vacated 120 days before the expiry of parliament’s term, which in this case is March 17, 2013.
“When, except by dissolution of the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly, a [general] seat in any Assembly has become vacant not later than one hundred and twenty days before the term of that Assembly is due to expire, an election to fill the seat shall be held within sixty days from the occurrence of the vacancy,” reads Clause (4) of the article.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has already announced schedule for by-polls in eight constituencies which have been rendered vacant following the Supreme Court’s verdict disqualifying 11 lawmakers for holding dual nationalities. Of them, three seats are of the National Assembly while five are provincial seats.
By-elections for NA-107 Gujarat, NA-162 Sahiwal, NA-245 Karachi; Punjab Assembly seats PP-26 Jhelum, PP-92 Gujranwala, PP-122 Sialkot, PP-144 Lahore; Sindh Assembly seats PS-21 Naushera Feroze will be held on November 17, according to the schedule announced by the ECP.
Of the three reserved seats for women that have been rendered vacant, notifications regarding two seats have already been issued. Riffat Khan has replaced MQM’s Nadia Gabol, while Munira Shakir has replaced PPP’s Farahnaz Ispahani.
The Punjab Assembly seat, for which a replacement is yet to be announced, was earlier occupied by PPP’s Amna Bhuttar. Sources said PPP’s new candidate is a government employee and thus does not qualify to hold a public office.
Cases of several lawmakers suspected of holding dual nationality are pending in various courts. On September 20, the Supreme Court directed the ECP to seek fresh declarations from all lawmakers wherein they must testify that they are not a national of any country but Pakistan.
Under the current laws, a person having only Pakistani nationality can qualify to become a member of parliament or provincial assembly. The provision, however, has been dormant up till now.
How this affects the opposition?
In the past, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) threatened to quit parliament and provincial assemblies in a bid to press the government to hold early elections. But it never went ahead with the decision fearing the ruling party would hold fresh by-elections to fill up vacated seats.
The November 17 deadline means the opposition can opt to resign from parliament without having to worry about the government nullifying its move through fresh by-polls.
It is, however, unlikely to tender en masse resignations as that would leave the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party free to install an interim government of its choice.
Under the 18th Amendment, a caretaker prime minister can only be selected by the president after consulting the incumbent premier and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly – an office the PML-N currently holds.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2012.