Beleaguered AJK premier enjoys cover of constitution

1 December 2008
The Dawn
Tariq Naqash

Muzaffarabad: Even though AJK Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan seems to have lost simple majority in the Legislative Assembly, some “safety valves” in the region’s interim constitution, also known as Act 1974, come to his rescue just like they had favoured his predecessor, Sardar Sikandar Hayat, in almost similar conditions four years ago. On Thursday, Mr Khan was elected by his supporters in the ruling Muslim Conference (MC) as party’s president for the third consecutive term at a convention which was in fact a ‘show of power’ by him in the face of imminent threat to his rule by his own colleagues. However, he could pull in only 21 MLAs, including himself, at the function which established a dip of his support in the MC parliamentary party. The current strength of the Legislative Assembly is 48, 25 of which make up simple majority to remain in or to be ousted from power. A ‘forward bloc’ consisting of 10 treasury members, including the speaker and six ministers, has been openly opposing the premier with avowals to oust him with the help of “other like-minded colleagues and opposition parties.” Three more MLAs, who had stayed away from Thursday’s convention, are also reported to have turned their backs on the prime minister. However, since the interim constitution does not provide any remedy to the opponents of the leader of the house in the event of any such situation, however strong they may be numerically, Mr Khan continues to enjoy its benefits. “We know that at the moment he (PM) lacks even simple majority but there is no provision whereby the president or any other legislator can ask him to seek a fresh vote of confidence,” said an opposition lawmaker. Perhaps that’s why Mr Khan had thrown down a gauntlet to his opponents, the other day, saying they should table a no-confidence motion against him if they possessed the required strength. “Even if they have (support of) 24, I can provide them with the remaining one member to meet their target,” he was quoted as saying at a press conference. Political and legal sources say though the ‘forward bloc’ with the help of combined opposition (14 members) is in a position to go for the vote of no-confidence against the premier, a constitutional provision impedes their plans. Section 18(2) of the interim constitution reads “A resolution for the vote of no-confidence shall not be moved in the Assembly unless, by the same resolution, the name of another member of the Assembly is put forward as the successor.” The ‘forward bloc’, it may be recalled, had agreed in its internal meetings on four names – LA Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir, Finance Minister Raja Nisar Ahmed, Works Minister Col (retired) Raja Nasim and Education (schools) Minister Chaudhry Mohammad Aziz – as the likely successors to Mr Khan, but it is yet to arrive at a final decision in this regard.