Interpretation of Article 63(A): SCBA files review petition in Supreme Court

Interpretation of Article 63(A) SCBA files review petition in Supreme CourtISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on Thursday moved the apex court seeking the review of its May 17 judgment on the interpretation of Article 63(A) pertaining to the treatment of dissidents.

On May 17, the SC, while wrapping up the presidential reference seeking interpretation of Article 63(A) had ruled that the votes of dissident members of Parliament (MPs), cast against their parliamentary party’s directives, cannot be counted.

The SCBA filed a plea moving the apex court to take back its opinion on the verdict’s paragraph about not counting the votes of dissidents by reviewing the interpretation made on May 17, 2022. It maintained that the dissidents should only be de-seated but their votes are supposed to be counted as per the Constitution of Pakistan.

“The apex court’s opinion about not counting the dissident’s votes is against the Constitution and equal to interference in it,” the SCBA stated in the plea.

The bar association has nominated the federal government and Election Commission of Pakistan as respondents in the case.

Dissident MPs’ votes not to be counted: SC

The court, issuing its verdict on the presidential reference seeking the interpretation of Article 63(A) of the Constitution, said that the law cannot be interpreted in isolation.

Questions asked in reference

  • Can defecting parliamentarians be allowed to vote?
  • Will defecting MPs vote be given equal weightage?
  • Can defecting MPs be disqualified for life?
  • Other measures that can be taken to curb vote-buying?

In a split decision, three judges — Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Munib Akhtar — agreed that dissident members’ votes should not be counted.

Meanwhile, Justice Jamal Mandokhail and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel disagreed with the verdict.

The reference

The former PTI-led government had decided to approach the SC for clarity on Article 63(A) as several PTI lawmakers announced to vote on the no-trust motion against then prime minister Imran Khan — a violation of the party policy.

Despite their decision of not siding with their leader, none of the PTI MNAs had cast their votes of no-confidence against Khan, as the then opposition already had the required 172 votes to oust him.

In the reference, the government sought the apex court’s opinion on two interpretations of Article 63(A) and which one should be adopted and implemented to achieve the constitutional objective of curbing the menace of defections, purification of the electoral process, and democratic accountability.

The reference stated if the constitutional disapproval and prohibition against defection were effectively enforced with deterrence for the future as well, many such members would stand disqualified for life under Article 62(1)(f) and would never be able to pollute democratic streams.

What is Article 63(A)?

Article 63(A) of the Constitution of Pakistan deals with the defection of parliamentarians.

According to the article, a lawmaker can be disqualified on the grounds of defection if they vote or abstain from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which they belong.

However, this is restricted to three instances where they have to follow the party’s directions:

  • Election of the prime minister or chief minister;
  • Vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence;
  • Money bill or a Constitution (amendment) bill.

Per the article, the head of the party is required to present a written declaration that the MNA concerned has defected.

However, prior to presenting the declaration, the head of the party will have to give the MNA concerned a chance to explain the reasons for defection.

Following that, the party chief will then forward the written declaration to the speaker, who would, in turn, hand it over to the chief election commissioner (CEC).

The CEC will have 30 days at their disposal to confirm the declaration. Once confirmed, the MNA concerned will no longer be a member of the House and their “seat shall become vacant”.

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