By constitutional obligation, Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has convened a session of the newly elected National Assembly, scheduled for February 29th, following the general elections on February 8th. President Arif Alvi’s reluctance to fulfill this duty prompted Speaker Ashraf to take matters into his own hands, ensuring the timely commencement of parliamentary proceedings.

Oath-Taking Ceremony for Newly Elected Members

The inaugural session of the new assembly will first see all the lawmakers take oath. In the 336-member house, 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 for minorities.

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Allocation of Reserved Seats

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has already allocated 40 reserved women seats to different political parties. These include 20 out of 32 of Punjab, two out of 10 of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all 14 of Sindh and all four of Balochistan.

Seven out of 10 seats reserved for minorities have also been allocated. The ECP is yet to allot reserved minority and women seats to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), which has allied with the PTI.

Election of Speaker and Deputy Speaker

Speaker Ashraf, continuing in his role until a successor is elected, will preside over the session’s proceedings.

“At the first meeting of the Assembly, following a general election, after the members have made oath and before the transaction of any other business, the Assembly shall proceed to elect a Speaker under clause (1) of Article 53, by secret ballot,” states Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007.

Article 53 of the Constitution of Pakistan says, “After a general election, the National Assembly shall, at its first meeting and to the exclusion of any other business, elect from amongst its members a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker and, so often as the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker becomes vacant, the Assembly shall elect another member as Speaker or, as the case may be, Deputy Speaker.”

“At any time before 12:00 noon on the day preceding the day on which the election is to be held, any member may propose another member for election as Speaker by delivering to the Secretary a nomination paper signed by him and accompanied by a statement by the member whose name is proposed that he is willing to serve as Speaker, if elected,” states the official procedure.

The voting process will be conducted through a secret ballot, and whoever receives more votes will be elected the new speaker of the house. In case the speaker’s election ends in a tie, the election will be held again.

Subsequently, the new speaker will announce the schedule for the deputy speaker’s election. In the same manner, through a secret ballot, the deputy will be elected.

Prime Ministerial Election Process

Once the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are elected, the schedule for the Prime Minister’s election, also known as the leader of the house, will be announced. This process, outlined in Section 91(3) of the Constitution, involves nominations and an open vote by division, requiring a simple majority for victory.

Section 91(3) of the Constitution says: “After the election of the speaker and the deputy speaker, the National Assembly shall, to the exclusion of any other business, proceed to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be the Prime Minister.”

In the same way, nomination papers for the prime minister’s election will be submitted to the assembly’s secretariat.

While the election for the speaker, his deputy, and the leader of the opposition are free from any religious limitation, the prime minister’s election is open to only the Muslim members of the house.

“Before voting commences, the Speaker shall direct that the bells be rung for five minutes to enable members not present in the chamber to be present. Immediately after the bells stop ringing, all the entrances to the lobby shall be locked and the assembly staff posted at each entrance shall not allow any entry or exit through those entrances until the voting has concluded,” according to the official procedure for recording of votes in the Second Schedule.

Under the supervision of the speaker, an open vote will take place — by division.

For instance, if there are two candidates, the speaker would say that ‘whoever wants to vote for candidate A can go to lobby A’ and ‘whoever wants to vote for candidate B, can go to lobby B’.

At the entrance of the said lobbies, there will be an member of the assembly secretariat staff who will record every MNAs name in their register. This whole process will be open and people sitting in the galleries will be able to see who votes for whom.

Here, the political parties have to vote collectively and every member has to vote for the candidate that their party is voting for.

After every member has picked their lobby and registered their vote, the speaker will call them back and announce the result. To be selected as the prime minister, one needs a simple majority — more than half of the votes in the house i.e. 169 votes out of the total 336.

Section 91(4) of the Constitution states, “The Prime Minister shall be elected by the votes of the majority of the total membership of the National Assembly: Provided that, if no member secures such a majority in the first poll, a second poll shall be held between the members who secure the two highest numbers of votes in the first poll and the member who secures a majority of votes of the members present and voting shall be declared to have been elected as Prime Minister: Provided further that, if the number of votes secured by two or more members securing the highest number of votes is equal, further poll shall be held between them until one of them secures a majority of votes of the members present and voting.”

This means that the two most-voted candidates will contest another round of elections till one ultimately gets 51 percent of votes or more, and wins.

Selection of Leader of the Opposition

After the Prime Minister’s election, the Speaker will facilitate the nomination of candidates for the Leader of the Opposition, a position crucial for parliamentary balance. The selection process entails the submission of candidate names along with signatures, with the individual garnering the most support from opposition members being appointed.

“After the [election of the Prime Minister] the Speaker shall inform the members about the date, time and place for submission of a name for the Leader of the Opposition under their signatures,” says the official procedure in Chapter V 39(2).

The third point of the same section adds, “The Speaker shall declare a member as Leader of the Opposition having the greatest numerical strength after verification of the signatures of the members: Provided that any member who is not signatory to the proposal, if he presents himself before the count, and signs the proposal, shall be included in the count.”

This announcement will be made right after the prime minister’s election but submission of these lists can take time.

Changes in Selection Procedures

Before the implementation of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the designation of the opposition leader rested solely with the discretion of the speaker.

During the era of Parvez Musharraf, this discretionary power was perceived to be misused, notably when Fazlur Rehman was appointed as the opposition leader despite the clear majority held by the PPP and PML-N.

However, the process has transformed now. In the current scenario, if multiple candidates are contending for the position, they are required to submit lists of opposition members, along with their signatures, to the speaker. The candidate who garners greater support from opposition members will be conferred the title of the leader of the opposition.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that in each of the aforementioned elections, the votes of the candidates themselves will also be taken into account.