In a surprise development, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday secured a vote of confidence in the National Assembly, with 180 lawmakers expressing their “full confidence” in his leadership.
Moved by Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the resolution to repose “full confidence” in Sharif’s leadership had not been included in the orders of the day and was tabled through a supplementary agenda. Justifying the decision to table the resolution, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman said the government wished to show the whole world that Parliament stood with the Constitution and the prime minister.
Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf then urged all lawmakers who supported the resolution to register their vote by rising from their seats. Subsequently, he announced that 180 members—six more than had voted for Sharif when he was elected prime minister last year due to by-elections wins—had voted in favor of the resolution. “Consequently, Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif has obtained the vote of confidence from the National Assembly and commands the confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly as Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” he said.
“Had the late Mufti Abdul Shakoor been present today, the premier would have secured 181 votes,” the speaker added. Curiously, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb had earlier this week vehemently rejected media reports of the prime minister considering a vote of confidence, triggering criticism on social media over her previous position.
Parliament is supreme
Addressing the House after securing the trust vote, the prime minister said he had always stood by Parliament and regretted that its decisions were being “challenged” these days. Criticizing the judiciary, he said judges had no authority to rewrite the Constitution. “It is not possible that Parliament frames a law and the judiciary issues a stay order on it even before it is enforced,” he said, referring to the apex court suspending the implementation of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023, aimed at curtailing the CJP’s discretionary powers for suo motu cases.
“We do not accept the decision of the three-judge bench. We only accept the 4-3 verdict,” he reiterated, while lamenting that the court appeared to only be interested in elections in Punjab while showing no concern for polls in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. “Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was unjustly martyred, Yousaf Raza Gilani was disqualified. Nawaz Sharif was disqualified. Today, Parliament has given me the vote of confidence. By God, if they oust me in response to this vote of confidence, I am ready to go back thousands of times,” he said, stressing that it was mandatory for him to respect any decision of Parliament.
Explaining that the government had decided to engage in dialogue with the PTI despite reservations of some coalition partners, he said the sole agenda would be simultaneous elections nationwide. Explaining his position, he said polls in Punjab six months before the rest of the country would send the “wrong” message to “smaller” provinces. “If the PTI is ready to accept elections on a single day, then we have nominated our team,” he said.
During his address, the prime minister also slammed the ousted PTI-led government and its “facilitators,” specifically naming former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar. Maintaining that former prime minister Imran Khan had promised that all charges of rigging in the 2018 elections would be probed, he lamented it had never come to pass. He further alleged that Nisar had halted recounting in constituencies and demanded a fresh probe over the rigging claims and accused him of “taking suo motu notices day and night.”
He concluded his speech by noting that the three-member bench hearing the elections delay case had stated that failure to release funds for polls in Punjab suggested the prime minister had lost the majority in the house. “But the house has given its verdict today,” he said, adding that Parliament had rejected the decision of the three-member bench.
Also on Thursday, lawmakers rejected—for a third time—a motion moved by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar seeking the release of Rs. 21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for polls in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in line with Supreme Court orders.