National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has decided to start the process of verification of the resignations of 123 members of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) by calling them individually or in groups as some two dozen MNAs belonging to the formerly ruling party approached him seeking a meeting to clarify their stance.

Unlike the Centre, however, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who was a PTI-led coalition candidate for chief minister election, acted swiftly by sending a reference against 26 PTI MPAs to the ECP to declare their defection since they had voted for PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz in violation of their party discipline.

The PTI and PML-Q believe that the declaration of 26 MPAs’ defection would rob the joint opposition of its strength to compete for the chief minister’s election in the assembly. Both parties are putting the last-ditch effort to get the PTI dissidents defected by the ECP to make the election of PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz null and void and go for “run-off” election to win the province’s chief executive slot by a simple majority.

Dawn quoted sources in the NA Secretariat who confirmed that a majority of the resignations submitted by the PTI MNAs were not handwritten and had a similar text printed on the PTI’s letterhead.

They said the secretariat staff also had doubts over the signatures of some members as these were not matching with those on the assembly’s roll.

The sources disclosed that at least 25 PTI MNAs had separately written to Speaker Ashraf, requesting for an appointment so that they could explain the circumstances under which they had to submit the resignations.

The decision to resign en masse from the assembly had been taken at the PTI’s parliamentary party meeting, chaired by Imran Khan, and it was announced by PTI vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the floor of the assembly just minutes before PM’s election on April 11.

Former deputy speaker Qasim Suri, who was then functioning as the acting speaker, immediately accepted the resignations and directed the NA Secretariat to issue a notification. On April 14, the PTI had through social media released the NA Secretariat’s notification declaring that 123 party MNAs “resigned from their seats by writing under their hand” to the speaker. The notification, signed by NA Secretary Tahir Hussain, had declared that after submission of the resignations their seats had become vacant in terms of Article 64(1) of the Constitution, with effect from April 11.

The NA Secretariat officials had, however, remained tightlipped over the development.

When contacted, a senior official of the NA Secretariat said the notification that had been issued by the secretary was withheld as it was issued in a ‘controversial’ manner. Moreover, he said, the newly-elected speaker had already ordered de-sealing of the resignations and, therefore, the previous notification should be taken “as it has not been issued at all”.

The official made it clear that since the notification had not been forwarded to the ECP, it had no value and should be considered an internal matter of the secretariat.

Meanwhile, as per the parliamentary traditions, the National Assembly after abandoning its agenda paid tribute to late Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) member Iqbal Mohammad Ali Khan, who died in Karachi on Tuesday after a brief illness. In their speeches, the members belonging to all the parties lauded the services of the late MNA who had been the member of the assembly since 2002.

PUNJAB ASSEMBLY: However, the situation was different in Punjab where Speaker Elahi sent a reference against 26 PTI MPAs, who voted in violation of their party directive, to the ECP to declare their defection. The 26 PTI MPAs had joined the PML-N on its opposition benches and voted for the opposition candidate Hamza Shehbaz at a stormy session in the Punjab Assembly on April 16.

The dissidents are: Raja Sagheer Ahmed, Malik Ghulam Rasool Sangha, Saeed Akbar Khan, Mohammad Ajmal, Faisal Hayat, Mahar Mohammad Aslam, Mian Khalid Mehmood, Abdul Aleem Khan, Nazir Ahmad Chohan, Amin Zulqernain, Malik Nauman Langrial, Mohammad Salman, Zawar Hussain Warraich, Nazir Ahmad Khan, Fida Hussain, Zahra Batool, Mohammad Tahir, Aisha Nawaz, Sajida Yousaf, Haroon Imran Gill, Uzma Kardar, Malik Asad Ali, Ijaz Masih, Sabtain Raza, Javeed Akhtar, Mohsin Atta Khan Khosa.

Soon after the election of chief minister, PTI secretary general Asad Umer had issued show-cause notices to the 26 MPAs. PTI chairman Imran Khan then sent separate references against each dissident to the Punjab Assembly speaker declaring that they had defected the party under Article 63A (1) (b)(i). The chairman said his “party’s 26 MPAs had left the parliamentary party of PTI and sided with the opposition as per division list for election of chief minister”.

In a tweet, Mr Elahi said the PTI had taken a bold stance by taking action against its dissident MPAs. “The ECP should take the references against the PTI dissident MPAs to the logical end at the earliest,” he added.

Interestingly, the scope of disqualification of a parliamentarian in case of defection under Article 63-A is still under discussion at the Supreme Court.

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