The No-Confidence Vote: Making Sense of the Constitutional Crisis

Image Source: Element5 Digital, [image] (Pexels, 15 January 2020) accessed 5 April 2022.

Here is your simplified and unglorified factual and legal explainer about the current Constitutional Crisis happening in Pakistan:

The 2018 general elections saw the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) emerge as the largest party, obtaining 149 total seats (increased over the years to 155) in the National Assembly. Falling short of the required seats for a simple majority (172), the PTI formed a coalition government at the centre with the likes of PML (Q), MQM-P, and BAP as partners.

A little over 3 and a half years since having taken office, the PTI has navigated times of economic woes and a strained relationship with an allied opposition rallying against it. Things took a sharper turn when the opposition made clear its intent to field a vote of no-confidence against the sitting Prime Minister, Imran Khan. This turn of events begs two factual questions: what is a vote of no-confidence and why was such a motion filed?

Any attempt to constitutionally remove the Prime Minister from office falls under the scope of Article 95 of the Constitution, which allows a vote of no-confidence to be moved against the Prime Minister. In layman’s terms, a no-confidence vote depicts that the Prime Minister is no longer deemed fit to hold office or effectively undertake prime ministerial responsibilities by a majority of the parliament. As members of parliament are elected individuals, their votes may also represent the confidence (or lack of it) of the general public in the Prime Minister and his policies. Consequently, a successful vote of no-confidence could have led towards the current Prime Minister ceasing to occupy his official position and the entire federal government resigning. However, the remaining parliament would have continued to function till the end of its tenure in august 2023.

The opposition has cited many grounds for filing the vote of no-confidence. Firstly, the opposition states that the government’s economic policy is leading towards an economic crisis in the country, and that people are being affected from skyrocketing inflation. Khan’s government has tried satisfying the masses by giving relief in the form of decreased petrol and electricity prices. This too faces criticism by local and international critics[1] who are of the opinion that the said price relief will be detrimental to Pakistan in the long run as it will cause a failure to comply with its obligations to lenders. The opposition also questions Imran Khan’s policy on foreign affairs and his repeated derogatory statements on the European Union’s decisions. The opposition in its statements has attempted to remind Khan of the detrimental effect this may have on the economic and business relations Pakistan maintains with the EU, with the latter being a major business partner of Pakistan.

The question then arises as to who would have filled the Prime Minister’s shoes in the aforementioned circumstances. Article 91 states that “the Prime Minister shall be elected by the votes of the majority of the total membership of the National Assembly.” Hence, following the constitutional removal of the Prime Minister, the National Assembly would have voted for the election of the new Prime Minister, who would have completed the term of his predecessor. In this instance, the collective opposition had been suggesting Mr. Shahbaz Sharif as the most viable candidate for the position.

What should have happened:

The first step for the opposition was to summon the National Assembly. Article 54 of the Constitution states that a requisition (a fancier word for summoning) has to be filed before the National Assembly Secretariat if the assembly is not in session. As the opposition was filing a “special” requisition with a vote of no-confidence as its agenda, following Article 95, they required 68 (20%) members of the assembly to sign the paper. The requisition was filed on 8th March 2022; the opposition had much more than the required 68 members, with a total of 140[2] members of parliament signing the resolution for the no-confidence agenda.

Constitutionally [Article 54(3)], the speaker should have summoned the assembly to hear arguments, on a vote of no-confidence as a resolution, within 14 days of the requisition being submitted. Within 12 days, the National Assembly Secretariat issued a notification on 20th March stating that a session shall be convened on the 21st. However, the session was ultimately held on 20 days later on 28th March, as previously, OIC meetings, construction at the Senate, and demise of a Parliamentarian caused delays. The resolution for a no-confidence vote was passed, with a majority of parliamentarians supporting the motion. This means that as per Article 95 of the Constitution, members of Parliament could have voted within 3-7 days after the resolution, so the vote could have been casted at any day from 1st to 7th April 2022. In line with Article 95, the Parliament was summoned on the 3rd of April to vote on the no-confidence resolution.

What really happened:

A point to be noted is that the sitting government, since election in 2018, does not have a simple majority and instead relied on coalition partners to make up the requisite numbers. If that was already a precarious position, the signaling of quite a few PTI members’ intent to the effect that they would vote in favor of the vote of no-confidence made worrisome for Khan. These dissident members’ decision to take refuge in the Sindh House saw PTI workers rioting and breaking into the Sindh House on the 18th of March. The PTI itself took a rather unusual step: it stated that any of its party members intending to go against party lines – by voting in favour of the vote of no-confidence – would be pre-emptively proceeded against under Article 63A of the Constitution, which would see the PTI member as a defector.

            What followed was long marches, political rhetoric, and impassioned speeches on both sides. The opposition on 23rd March carried out a Long March from Karachi to Islamabad. 27th March saw both activists of the opposition and government descend onto Islamabad in a final rally for support before the final showdown took place.

The 3rd of April, on what promised to be a fateful Sunday, seemed to be the day that would decide it all. The decision of Khan’s coalition partners, such as the MQM-P, to leave the PTI-led coalition government was reflective of the threat to the incumbent Prime Minister’s office. This could perhaps be seen as an endgame since PTI government now did not hold the majority it needed in the National Assembly to form a government.

Imran Khan’s Plot Twist:

The threat to the PM’s office and to his government seemed to vanish into thin air. On 3rd April, the Deputy Speaker saw it fit to ‘dismiss’ the Resolution before any voting could take place. Citing Article 5 of the Constitution in his ruling, the Deputy Speaker saw the vote of no-confidence to be inspired by the interference of a foreign state that wanted the current regime to be toppled. In such circumstances, it was opined that proceeding to vote in such a manner would be a violation of every citizen’s duty to remain loyal to the State. Thus, and without going into greater detail on what exactly constituted the ‘nexus’ between the motion of no-confidence and the alleged foreign conspiracy, the Deputy Speaker saw fit to ‘disallow’ the motion.

After this dismissal, the President, on the advice of the Prime Minister, dissolved the National Assembly under Articles 48 and 58 of the Constitution. Article 48 essentially states that the President must carry out his functions in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister. One such function that can be carried out, under Article 58, is the dissolution of the National Assembly. Article 58 states that the President, on the advice of the Prime Minister, shall dissolve the National Assembly and that such dissolution is effective within 48 hours of advice. Interestingly, Article 58 specifically disallows such dissolution where “a notice of a resolution for a vote of no-confidence has been given in the National Assembly but has not been voted upon… [emphasis added]”

Seen from this lens, the Deputy Speaker’s attempt to ‘dismiss’ the motion was merely an act to set up an escape from the bar contained in Article 58; there can be no valid motion for such a vote when it has effectively been set aside. Analysts have noted how the office of the Speaker has no express mandate that allows it to dismiss any resolution. In fact, Schedule 2 of the Rules of the National Assembly confines the role of the Speaker/Deputy Speaker in such a scenario to the mere announcing of the result.

What has followed after this controversial ruling are not just political events, but constitutional and legal questions that touch upon the very foundational principles on which Pakistan currently stands. Our next blawg in this series will attempt to unfold and explain the same.

[1] Ammar Khan, “Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan cuts fuel and electricity prices” (Atlantic Council – 28 February 2022).

[2] Nadir Ghurmani and Sanaullah Khan, “Opposition submits no-trust motion against PM Imran Khan” (Dawn, 8 March 2022)


Nawal Ramay, Director of Research and Publications, RCIL & HR (

Smam Abdallah Mir, Team Lead and Coordinator, RCIL & HR (

Mahbano Kazmi, Research Assistant, RCIL & HR (

2 thoughts on “The No-Confidence Vote: Making Sense of the Constitutional Crisis”

  1. Saif Ur Rehman

    1-Is it not mandatory for the speaker/deputy speaker to take action in the larger interest of IRP once an authentic information is tabled before him about the disloyalty of the group of the parliamentarians who are part of the no-confidence motion against the PM?
    2-What’s the constitutional power of the custodian of the paliament in terms of chain of command?

    1. Thank you for commenting.
      1. Whilst foreign interference is a very grave charge that requires prompt addressing, the office of the Speaker is not the appropriate forum.
      This matter is a cause for further inquiry before Parliament itself and the National Security Committee.
      Per Schedule 2 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the NA the role of the Speaker in a vote of no-confidence is to merely announce the result. A dismissal of such a motion on these grounds is not mandatory. In fact, it is unheard of.
      Secondly, these allegations are yet to backed beyond hearsay. To proceed with these allegations on such grounding would impeach 200 (a majority of the NA) directly elected Parliamentarians.

      2. The Speaker is the presiding officer of the NA. His duties, including maintaining decorum and taking up points on the agenda, are mentioned in both the Constitution and the Rules mentioned above. The latter is especially relevant in the process of a vote of no-confidence.

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