To evict or not to evict..

pti eviction

On the 28th of July, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamiat e Ulema e Islam Fazl ur Rehman (JUIF) tabled resolutions in the National Assembly to de-seat lawmakers from Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) on account of their absence from the house for 40 consecutive days of its sittings.

The resolutions were tabled under Rule 44 of the National Assembly Rules of Procedure, to de-seat PTI members under Article 64 (2) of the Constitution of Pakistan.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamaat e Islami (JI) stood by PTI and against the motions to de-seat them. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), apparently against the motion, suggested that it may be adjourned and time may be allowed to resolve the issue amicably, outside of the house.

The motions were deferred for seven days, reportedly on request of Mr. Ishaq Dar; Finance Minister and senior member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet.

It may be interesting to note that the resolutions/motions tabled by MQM and JUIF could not have been considered by the house before the expiry of seven days from the date on which they were moved (Proviso to Rule 44 sub rule 2:

“Provided that no such motion shall be considered before the expiry of seven days from the date on which the motion was moved”).

PMLN had on the 27th of July, decided in principal to not support any such resolution/motion tabled in the National Assembly and to adopt a conciliatory path.

PTI leader Shah Mehmood urged the house to take up the motion and be done with it instead of keeping the members hanging. In light of the above mentioned proviso, his suggestion seems to be against the Rules of Procedure.

PMLN is playing wisely, at the moment at least, considering recent report of the judicial commission to be a vindication of its stance, it wants to stay on the recently acquired moral high ground. Reportedly several members from PMLN did advise the Prime Minister to support the motions and evict PTI members. However, Nawaz Sharif seems to have learnt some lessons from the past when such advisors landed him and his party in deep trouble.

It is thus most probable that the PMLN legislators will be advised to vote against the motions. With PPP and JI following suit, the motions may well be rejected.

On merit, in my opinion, the motions deserve nothing more than rejection. PTI legislators had resigned from the house and the resignations were kept pending by the Speaker who ultimately chose not to accept them in his own discretion, as allowed by the Rules of Procedure (Rule 43-2b).

It may also be argued that as per the rule laid down, in context of language used in Rule 44, a motion to de-seat a member on account of his absence can only be tabled if and after the Speaker brings the matter of such absence before the house.

44(1) If a member is absent without leave of the Assembly, for forty consecutive days of its sittings, the Speaker shall bring the fact to the notice of the Assembly and thereupon any member may move that the seat of the member who has been so absent be declared vacant under clause (2) of Article 64…”

As per my knowledge, the Speaker has not brought the absence of PTI members before the house through any notification or statement. It is thus questionable if these motions are regular and valid in light of the Rules of Procedure.

Furthermore, legitimacy of the house was, for all practical purposes, in question. A question that was deliberated upon by three senior Supreme Court Justices for well over three months.

Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly and the Constitution of Pakistan are silent on the absence of a member or members during the pendency of their resignations, in effect leaving the matter to the discretion of members of the Assembly. This makes the motions a matter of moral obligation more than a legal one.

Morally, PMLN is obliged to let PTI be a part of the Parliament, as agreed upon in the Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties. The outburst from a minister from PMLN after the party had succeeded in its efforts to bring PTI members back in parliament earlier this year has already brought considerable embarrassment to the party.

As far as the MQM is considered, their motion is a continuation of their bitter rivalry with PTI. It is more about revenge than the constitution or law. JUIF is sort of on the same boat as MQM, only since it is in coalition with PMLN, the party should be brought on the same page as its coalition partner. There is little probability that JUIF joined MQM on behest of PMLN, in order for PMLN to make the most of this opportunity and come out as the conciliator.

The matter of eviction of PTI members from Parliament is thus inconsequential, a mere opportunity for sensationalism. It does not promise to yield any productive outcome and is merely a waste of the parliament’s time.

Zardari’s “aw-position”

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Pakistan's slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

There once was a time when Pakistan’s parliament had an opposition and an opposition leader. The prime objective of the opposition would be to criticize the government where it erred, suggest better substitute polices, measures and laws. An opposition, under the guidance of its leader, was an effective in-house check on a government. It would ensure that the government does not get carried away with its power and that democracy does not become an autocracy.

The purpose, however, was not just to hold the government accountable within the parliament, but also outside it. An opposition leader is usually elected from the party that has majority seats in the opposition benches. Meaning thereby that the opposition party would have a significant following among the masses and by that virtue, would be able to keep a check on the government’s performance. It could question the prime minister and his cabinet on allegations of corruption, nepotism and such other acts that are outside or against the State’s interests.

For most of the last two and half decades, role of opposition in the National Assembly has been given to either the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN). In the 90s, both these parties took turns at treasury and opposition benches. There was a bitter rivalry between the two, quite like the one we now see between PMLN and Pakisan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI).

Then Pervez Musharraf’s coup and consequent regime brought the two rivals closer. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif slowly began to shun old enmities and joined forces against the dictator. Many saw this affinity as temporary and born out of necessity. Since neither were in government, there wasn’t much to hate. It was predicted and expected that once Musharraf was ousted and the turn taking recommenced, the rivalries will re-ignite.

On the unfortunate eve of 27th December, 2007, Muhtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. On its way out of this mortal world, Muhtarma’s soul was accompanied by the soul of her party. Unlike her sudden and quick demise, the demise of her party was a slow one. Her husband took reigns of the PPP by virtue of the most secret public document ever.

Under Asif Ali Zardari’s leadership, PPP saw a complete change in its policies, stance, values and face. A new kind of friendship developed between age old rivals. The PPP and PMLN became closer than ever, with Mr. Asif Ali Zardari becoming brothers with Mr. Nawaz Sharif. A friendship that benefitted PMLN politically and Zardari personally, and at the cost of Benazir’s party.

Love was in the air. After a short stay in coalition, PMLN parted ways with PPP’s government and assumed the opposition’s role. Only PMLN’s opposition from 2009-2013 and PPP’s opposition from 2013 till date is not entirely an opposition. The two parties have been mutually more cooperative, than parties in coalition with each other.

Recently some members of the PPP, especially from Punjab – where PPP has suffered the major brunt of its leader’s love affair – have had outbursts of criticism on their party’s relationship with PMLN. The party is literally in tatters. Zardari is, however, quite comfortable with his arrangement with the PMLN. While the party and its ideological members suffer, Zardari makes personal gains. His mutually beneficial love for PMLN leaders, guised under the pretext of conciliation, is by far the most effective blow to PPP that has shaken the party’s roots and has left little promise for a comeback.

PPP under Asif Zardari is not an opposition. While some members may be able to criticize the government and PPP-PMLN marriage, Zardari has nothing but a loving “aw” for his “brother’s” actions and statements. Even if PPP is in the opposition, Mr. Zardari and his cronies are perpetually in an “aw-position” for the PMLN.

In Punjab, PPP left an open ground for PMLN in the 2013 elections. Many PPP candidates came out with embarrassing vote count at the end. The space was effectively ceded to PMLN, as many staunch PPP voters opted for the PMLN candidates and ‘electables’, most of whom were contesting on PMLN’s tickets. PTI also took its due share in the spoils and emerged as the second largest party, but its share was considerably smaller. Zardari’s cooperation landed PMLN in a much stronger position than it expected. This, by the way, was one of the causes for a rise in votes for PMLN, just like a rise in PTI’s vote bank, since around 20 to 40 thousand votes per constituency were up for grabs after PPP had ditched them.

By the way, while PTI is now busy picking up hitch hikers ditching PPP posing as electables, it must bear in mind that most of them do not hold the vote bank they once held, the vote bank has already been divided among PTI and PMLN.

My two cents on the commission’s report

JC

I just finished reading the Judicial Commission’s (the commission) final report and following are my key observations;

1. It is a comprehensive account of the commission’s proceedings. It seems unlikely that anything has been left out.

2. The commission has been very particular in following the terms of reference (TORs) and has been extremely cautious so as to not over step its authority or jurisdiction.

3. After meticulous deliberations and arguments, the commission decided to place the burden of proof on Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) and other parties who alleged large scale and planned rigging in the general elections 2013 (GE 2013). The burden of proof is, as a matter of civil law, placed on the alleger.

4. Despite the commission’s correct observation as regards the far reaching implications of its findings, the commission wisely decided to set balance of probabilities as standard of proof and not the strict ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ standard.

5. On detailed perusal of the report it is quite clear that PTI failed to prove its allegations. Nexus between its main accusations; printing of extra ballots and absence of Form XVs, could not be established with a direct and exclusive benefit to Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) (the main accused).

6. As per the evidence produced, irregularities were owing to the negligence/incompetence of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and not result of any conspiracy.

7. An interesting thing to note was the fact that both Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamaat e Islami (JI) have not directly accused PMLN of rigging in their submissions before the commission. However all political parties, except PMLN, alleged ECP of failing to fulfill its duties.

8. The commission has also pointed out that grave irregularities were owing to lack of training and coordination, negligence and incompetence of the ECP and its staff.

9. NO EVIDENCE could be brought before the commission to prove – even with balance of probabilities as standard of proof – that the irregularities directly and exclusively benefited PMLN.

10. ECP had reasonable rebuttals, corroborated with documentary evidence, to allegations of foul play in employment of extra persons and printing of extra ballots. For instance it was proved before the commission that only 34 extra persons were employed, not 200 as alleged.

Also, printing of extra ballots was a practice in place since last 45 years. Furthermore the extra ballots printed were second lowest in last 10 elections, second only to 1993 elections.

1970 23.60%

1985 21.97%

1988 18.94%

1990 14.83%

1993 3.27%

1997 9.05%

2002 7.78%

2008 6.95%

2013 6.89%

11. As was already clear before the report, PTI had no evidence of its allegations against the caretaker Chief Minister Punjab; Najam Sethi.

12. The commission has given a detailed analysis of ECP’s shortcomings which can be of immense help in improving the country’s electoral process.

All in all, PTI failed to prove rigging in GE 2013. This doesn’t mean the allegations were absolutely unfounded, as has been observed by the commission. But there was no evidence to substantiate their allegations. Which makes one wonder why then did they demand the establishment of a judicial commission which would definitely require production of reasonable evidence. There are only two possible reasons, in my opinion;

1. Khan sahab and his advisors are actually that naive,

and

2. “someone’ promised to provide them with evidence when the time came, but backed out eventually – which is improbable and also points to their naivety.

Now coming to the reactions.

PMLN is obviously feeling victorious, vindicated even. The fact that Prime Minister chose this occasion to address the nation, not having addressed us on many other occasions that called for an address, speaks of the government’s boasting.

PTI gave a panicked reaction at first when the chairman and one of his spokespersons objected to the commission’s report being sent to government and not also to PTI. They probably forgot the 7 page document – Memorandum or Understanding – signed by them which clearly said that on completion of proceedings, the commission “shall submit its report to the government.”

However, Khan sahab accepting the report later was wise, not that he had an option as the MOU he had signed said that he would accept the findings of the commission.

ANP and MQM want action against Imran Khan and PTI, but that’s just anger and frustration for having lost their ground to PTI.

Establishment of this commission was a historic event, its report is a historic document. If it can be used to make future elections fairer, PTI would have done the greatest service to this nation any political party has ever done.

0.6% to 0.3%: Government’s incentive to violators.

An ordinance; a relief for protestors, a mockery of the legal system, a slap on the state’s face, a joke with tax-paying and law abiding citizens and a new low for a federal government.

In the last hours of July 11th, 2015 the President of Pakistan issued an ordinance, on advice of the Prime Minister, reducing withholding tax on banking transactions, for non-filers, from 0.6% to 0.3% till September. The rate had only recently been increased to 0.6% in the Finance Bill 2015/16 passed by the Parliament of Pakistan.

My jaw had dropped when I heard that the federal finance minister had succumbed to protesting traders and agreed to reduce said tax rate. It dropped a little further when I found out that the Prime Minister had advised the President to issue an Ordinance to that effect. It couldn’t drop any further, but would have if it could have, when my eyes saw the news of this ordinance being actually promulgated.

I am sure most of my readers are familiar with these terms, but for the few who are not, let me explain in short.

Withholding tax: is a tax deducted in advance collected by the state from its citizens. At year’s end such taxes can be adjusted against the tax owed and paid by a citizen, and if no tax is owed or an amount less than the withholding tax already deducted is owed, then the surplus amount is refundable to a citizen. Purpose of imposing withholding taxes is to ensure tax collection and revenue generation.

Filers and non Filers: Citizens who perform their legal duty of filing annual income tax returns in accordance with the Income Tax Ordinance of 2001 are considered as “filers”. Citizens who do not perform this duty are said to be “non-filers”.

Different rates of withholding tax for filers and non filers: It is a widely practiced measure to bring more and more citizens into the tax net. How it works is that the government raises rates of withholding taxes for non-filers on different transactions like sale and purchase of property, imports, banking transactions etc. in order to encourage these citizens to fulfil their legal obligation and file income tax returns.

So why did my jaw drop? what just happened?

The government of Pakistan, by way of a law passed in the Parliament of Pakistan less than a month ago, raised the rate of withholding tax for non-filers; citizens who are not performing their legal duty and are violating the law.

In reaction to this, a group of traders and businessmen protested. Obviously this group comprised of non-filers, since the 0.6 % rate was not applicable to filers.

As a result of this protest the Federal Government through its finance minister not only negotiated with citizens who weren’t just violating the law but openly admitting to said violation, but went further and agreed to their demands.

Doesn’t make sense? Let it sink in. It’s ok, let your jaw drop.

Apparently the protestors have agreed to file returns and come in the tax net by September this year, and that is a win-win for our finance minister. But if they can make the government render a very recently passed law ineffectual, wouldn’t they give protest another shot before abiding by the law?

What amazes me is how a small group of individuals who have been violating the law by not filing income tax returns, forced the government to its knees in days. Is anyone still wondering how “someone” swept power away from the government so easily?