On Friday, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, the Speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly, accepted the resignations of 35 members belonging to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. This is in accordance with a long-standing demand of Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) of the party, several of whom had submitted their resignations in April 2022.
However, the timing of the acceptance has kicked off a controversy.
According to a report in the Pakistan daily Dawn, the resignations were taken up by Ashraf in an attempt to put an end to an alleged PTI plan to raise a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Ashraf, however, denied this. “There is a hue and cry when I don’t accept resignations, and a hue and cry when I do,” Dawn quoted him as saying.
The long wait
On April 11, 2022, minutes before Sharif was chosen to replace Khan as the Prime Minister, 131 PTI lawmakers tendered resignation en masse in the Parliament House in Islamabad. The resignations were a coordinated form of protest against the “imported government,” a reference to Khan’s allegations that his ouster was prompted by foreign interference.
However, Speaker Ashraf refused to accept all the resignations. In fact, till as recently as December, he remained adamant that the resignations will be accepted only after verifying them individually and in person to ensure that the decision was made voluntarily and without external pressure. This clashed with the lawmakers’ demand that the resignations be accepted at one go.
The Speaker accepted only 11 of the 131 resignations on July 28. According to a report in the Dawn, the MNAs whose resignations were accepted were Abdul Shakoor Shad, Ali Muhammad Khan, Fazal Muhammad Khan, Shaukat Ali, Fakhar Zaman Khan, Farrukh Habib, Ijaz Ahmed Shah, Jamil Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Akram Cheema, Shandana Gulzar Khan and Dr. Shireen Mehrunnisa Mazar.
Months passed without any resolution between the Speaker’s and the PTI lawmakers’ demands, until January 17, when the resignations of 34 PTI MNAs were accepted.
These lawmakers were identified as Aftab Hussain Saddique, Aftab Jehangir, Ali Amin Khan, Ali Nawaz Awan, Aliya Hamza Malik, Asad Qaiser, Asad Umar, Ataullah, Faheem Khan, Fawad Ahmed, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Hammad Azhar, Imran Khattak, Kanwal Shauzab, Malik Muhammad Amir Dogar, Mansoor Hayat Khan, Muhammad Alamgir Khan, Muhammad Aslam Khan, Muhammad Najeeb Haroon, Murad Saeed, Noorul Haq Qadri, Omar Ayub Khan, Pervaiz Khattak, Qasim Khan Suri, Raja Khurram Shahzad Nawaz, Sadaqat Ali Khan, Saifur Rehman, Sanaullah Khan Mastikhel, Shafqat Mahmood, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Sheharyar Afridi, Sheikh Rashid Shafique, Syed Ali Haider Zaidi and Zartaj Gul, as per a report in Dawn.
Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid’s resignation too was accepted on the same day.
Three days later, on January 20, the Speaker accepted the resignations of 35 more PTI MNAs, identified by a report in Dawn as: Aamer Mehmood Kiani, Abdul Majeed Khan, Ali Khan Jadoon, Amjad Ali Khan, Andaleeb Abbas, Arbab Amir Ayub, Asma Qadeer, Aurangzeb Khan Khichi, Chaudhry Shoukat Ali Bhab, Faizullah, Gul Dad Khan, Dr Haider Ali Khan, Ibraheem Khan, Junaid Akbar, Khurram Shahzad, Makhdoom Khusro BakhBar, Maleeka Ali Bokhari, Malik Karamat Ali Khokhar, Mehboob Shah, Mohammad Iqbal Khan, Muhammad Bashir Khan, Mujahid Ali, Munawara Bibi Baloch, Sahibzada Sibghatullah, Sajid Khan, Saleem Rehman, Shahid Ahmed, Sher Akbar Khan, Sher Ali Arbab, Syed Faiz ul Hassan, Syed Fakhar Imam, Tahir Iqbal, Umar Aslam Khan, Engr Usman Khan Tarakai and Zahoor Hussain Qureshi.
قومی اسمبلی اسپیکر راجہ پرویز اشرف نے قواعد و ضوابط کے مطابق پی ٹی آئی کے مزید 35 ارکان اسمبلی کے استعفے منظور کر لئے_ pic.twitter.com/QokSWmn9hk
— National Assembly of 🇵🇰 (@NAofPakistan) January 20, 2023
With the latest round of acceptances, the Speaker has approved the resignations of 80 PTI lawmakers who have now been de-notification by the Election Commission. The resignations of 51 more PTI lawmakers are yet to be accepted. The process has significantly whittled down PTI’s strength in the Assembly and could push the government to hold elections nationwide to continue in power.
Why was the Speaker criticised?
The Speaker’s decision to accept the majority of the resignation letters in a short span of time followed a remark by Imran Khan, who said in a news show that the PTI might push PM Sharif to face a no-confidence motion in the Parliament.
Khan said that PTI could test the sitting PM in a tit-for-tat move. “Shehbaz Sharif tested us in Punjab and now it’s his turn to prove whether he enjoys a majority in the National Assembly or not,” he said, as per a report in Press Trust of India. “In the first, Shehbaz will be tested for a trust vote… and later we have other plans for him,” Khan added.
PTI MNAs have said that the Speaker’s decision was a result of political pressure. Former Speaker Asad Qaiser, who belongs to PTI, told Dawn that the decision was made to benefit the ruling party. “When you occupy a constitutional position, then you should make decisions keeping in mind the law and the Constitution. You have to act in accordance with the law [rather] than fulfilling the wishes of political people,” he said.
However, Speaker Ashraf said that the resignations were accepted following a meeting with the PTI delegation, led by Qaiser, in December 2022. “We went over their media statements, their tweets, and their signatures before taking a decision regarding their resignations,” he told Dawn.