LAHORE - While the military rulers have been playing havoc with the constitution to prolong their tenures according to their own rules of the game, speakers of the National Assembly and some provincial legislatures have also set new records of subordinating the basic law to the expediencies of the parties they belong. The role played by various parties has also been undesirable and the aftershocks of what the speakers and parties did together to the constitution will be experienced in the times ahead.

The most immediate example which exposes the mindset of various parties is the issue of resignations of the PTI legislators from the federal and two provincial assemblies.

Alleging that the 2013 general elections had been massively rigged, the PTI lawmakers tendered resignations from the National Assembly and the Punjab and Sindh legislatures some seven months ago. (The KP MPAs did not follow suit as they did not agree with the party policy. And the PTI has no representation in the Balochistan Assembly).

The PTI leadership, along with the PAT protestors, staged sit-ins in Islamabad for months to mount pressure on the prime minister to quit. At the same time, formation of a judicial commission was sought to have the elections scrutinised.

Convinced that acceptance of the PTI legislators’ resignations would create an election-like atmosphere across the country (which the ruling PML-N could not afford) the NA speaker deferred a decision on resignations. His argument was that before giving his verdict, he would like to verify whether the members had voluntarily tendered resignations. When they went to his chamber in group, the speaker did not meet them, arguing that he would see every member separately to get his independent view.

The Punjab Assembly speaker kept silent on the issue of some 30 PTI MPAs, while the Sindh Assembly speaker – a PPP leader – accepted the resignations of the four PTI MPAs.

In the meantime, an MQM MNA Nabeel Gabol (elected from NA-246 Karachi) resigns from his seat because of differences with the party leadership. Speaker Ayaz Sadiq accepts the resignation after making a telephonic contact with him and verifying that he had resigned voluntarily.

On the other hand, the situation changes and the PTI decides to return to the assemblies on April 6, when a joint session was held to discuss the Yemen crisis. All PTI colleagues have been taking part in the session since then.

The MQM and the JUI-F, both staunch opponents of the PTI, have questioned the NA speaker’s conduct and the legality of the PTI lawmakers’ presence in the house.

An MQM legislator has asked the speaker why he had accepted Nabeel Gabol’s resignation on phone, and why he did not accept resignations of the five PTI lawmakers who had met him personally for presenting list of their fellow party MNAs?”

He recalled that MQM MNA Khalid Maqbool’s resignation from the house was accepted when he was languishing in jail in 1993, rejecting the speaker’s argument that PTI lawmakers had not appeared before him physically.

The JUI-F leaders are also criticising the speaker’s conduct in allowing the PTI members to return to the house. They argue that under article 64 of the constitution, the house has to declare the seat of a member, who fails to attend the session of National Assembly for consecutive 40 days, as vacant.

Now the National Assembly will take up the matter next week. A majority vote in support of the MQM-JUI-F motions may show the PTI door. But will the PML-N support the move? If yes, why? Is it prepared to hold elections on all seats to be vacated by the PTI MPs? Will the house like to question the speaker – and hold him accountable- for sitting over the resignations for seven months?

Another question is: Will someone ask the Sindh Assembly speaker why he allowed the PTI MPAs to retake their seats when he had accepted their resignations? Can the speaker review his decision on such an important issue?

(The Sindh Assembly speaker says that while he had accepted the resignations, a formal notification had not been issued).

Such situations have been arising even in the past but the conduct of the speakers has been as arbitrary as now. During the second PML-N tenure, an MPA (who was a journalist) resigned from his seat. The speaker kept the matter pending for several months on the plea that he wanted to have the signatures verified. But behind the scene the MPA was being persuaded to withdraw the decision, which he ultimately did.

The question is if the constitution is not clear on such matters? What should be done if the speaker doesn’t decide the matter according to the timeline given in the constitution? Can a decision of the speaker, in case it is violative of the constitution, be challenged in any court of law?