The Prime Minister’s continued absence from the country has irked the opposition to no end – especially since he was pictured taking a leisurely stroll in London’s Hyde park with his wife a few days ago. Their reasons go beyond envy. The state and provincial government have taken some important steps during his absence – such as passing budgets for the next fiscal year – and the Prime Minister should’ve been there according to the constitution. Opposition members claim that his absence makes these acts void or at least voidable.

While these concerns may be technically correct, physical presence is a much more malleable concept in this day and age. Modern technology has allowed world leaders to be very mobile while still running day-to-day business of the state. The Premier chaired the National Economic Council (NEC) and Federal Cabinet from the Pakistan High Commission in London through video link to give his formal approval to the federal budget for the year 2016-17. Constitutional purists and literal interpreters may find this objectionable, but for modern pragmatists – and for the layman – such evolution of government is inevitable and commonsense.

Yet the issue goes deeper. The government, especially one based on a cabinet of ministers, can run independently of a Prime Minister, but it cannot do so indefinitely. Nawaz Sharif is recovering well from his open-heart surgery, but there was always the possibility that there could have been medical complications. Perchance he had been consigned to a longer recovery period or his ability to perform his duties had been affected by his medication, a suitable stand-in for the premier would be needed.

Here lies the constitutional loophole; in drafting the 18th amendment the Prime Minister was made the only fount of authority, so no-one else could abrogate it or usurp it for them self. With a long and colourful history of dissolved assemblies and military coups behind us, such a precaution makes sense, but it also puts the government at a distinct disadvantage.

If the Prime Minister has been incapacitated, made infirm, or abducted by militants (an unlikely but possible scenario), there would be no one left in the government to take executive actions. The ministers can continue to run their ministries, but no one could change policies, authorize laws or take decisions that require the Prime Minister’s assent. Only a new Prime Minister coming through a new election would have that authority.

The opposition maybe highlighting the wrong aspects of this issue, but the issue underneath is sound; there is no constitutionally mandated deputy for the nation’s leader. This vacuum must be filled by the government and the opposition as soon as possible by passing the appropriate laws.