Speaker de-seated, but the game is not over


The question whether the de-seating of Ayaz Sadiq as Speaker of National Assembly is vindication of Imran Khan’s year-long dharna and a game-changer in national politics has no easy answer. Ayaz Sadiq has a right to challenge this decision of the provincial election tribunal in the Supreme Court, and he says he will.

Nonetheless the tribunal’s decision has delivered to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf a huge morale-booster it desperately needed in the wake of a string of by-poll defeats and palpable disquiet within the party ranks. Imran Khan is then rightly elated over this ‘second-wicket-down’ victory.

But to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz losing one seat in the National Assembly is hardly a threat to its hold on national power. But when the Speaker of the National Assembly, who is supposed to be a moral compass of the 342-member elected house and is honour-bound to uphold higher values of parliamentary system, is de-seated then it is not just loss of one seat; it is much more than that.

It is loss of public face and a lasting stigma to the image of a political party. But the tribunal’s order is not as simple and direct as the PTI had expected; it declared the election to NA-122 ‘null and void’ because of irregularities in the election process and hasn’t held Ayaz Sadiq guilty of rigging or any other wrong; nor has tribunal declared Imran Khan the winner. It only de-seated Ayaz Sadiq and ordered fresh election to NA-122.

To that extent, the tribunal’s verdict is nearly the same as of the Judicial Commission which too rejected the PTI charge of systematic rigging on the part of PML (N), as both have held irregularities in election as villain of the piece.

Except for the fact that both the wickets taken by Imran Khan are critical to the prospects of the PML (N) innings, the decision of the provincial election tribunal is neither a game-changer in national politics nor a prop to refurbish image of Tehreek-e-Insaf; it is just one out of dozens of decisions by the election tribunals that are routinely set up following the general elections.

One would have no beef with the PTI celebrations over this victory, but beyond this, its course is beset with quite a few uncertainties. It remains to be seen whether or not the court of appeal would endorse the tribunal’s decision primarily based on its conclusion that only 73,478 votes polled in NA-122 could be verified and that only 40 percent of fingerprints matched the Nadra records.

The tribunal did point out a number of irregularities but these were traced to the inefficiencies of the election commission, and not of the candidates. So, by no means the NA-122 saga is over, nor a good enough reason for the PTI to go for another dharna or its demand for resignations of the election commission members and Nadra officials.

But having said that, one would be only profoundly naive to think that de-seating Ayaz Sadiq has not dented the democratic credentials of the PML (N) leadership. Ayaz Sadiq is no more member of parliament and stay at home to cool his heals. Unless the tribunal’s order to de-seat him is overturned by the apex court it holds the ground.

And in the meanwhile the electoral reforms committee should work overtime to firm up a bill for their legislation. Both the judicial commission and the election tribunal concur that the election process requires a massive overhaul, without which controversies about the fairness and impartiality of electoral exercises in the country would remain issues of serious contention.

Best, if the electoral reforms bill is passed before the local government elections in Punjab and Sindh. We don’t know if that would be possible – for, if the PTI still prefers dharna to its role in parliament for electoral reforms the PML (N) too is quite disinterested in this matter.

That should change. Dharnas are not substitute for elected houses and being in power doesn’t absolve the PML (N) government of its responsibility to carry out legislations – promptly and comprehensively.