The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday de-seated 25 dissident MPAs of the PTI who voted for PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz in the election for Punjab chief minister, stating that they had defected from the party.

A three-member bench of the ECP, comprising Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, Nisar Ahmed Durrani and Shah Mohammad Jatoi, heard the reference.

The decision comes days after the Supreme Court’s decision on a presidential reference seeking its interpretation of Article 63-A, related to the disqualification of lawmakers over defection, which was announced earlier this week.

Article 63-A seeks to restrict lawmakers from voting (or abstaining) in violation of party instructions “in relation to election of the prime minister or chief minister; or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or a money bill or a Constitution (amendment) bill”.

In its interpretation of this Article, the apex court said votes cast against party direction “cannot be counted and must be disregarded, and this is so regardless of whether the party head, subsequent to such vote, proceeds to take, or refrains from taking, action that would result in a declaration of defection”.

The votes of the 25 PTI dissidents had been instrumental in helping Hamza get over the line; he received a total of 197 votes while 186 votes are required for a simple majority. Since these 25 lawmakers are no longer members of the House, Hamza has lost his majority.

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

In its judgement, the ECP said it had two options — to ignore the completion of actus reus (voting in favour of opposite candidate) on the grounds on non-fulfilment of prerequisites as mentioned in Article 63-A and decline the declarations or hold that voting against party policies was a “serious matter” as observed by the Supreme Court.

“We are of the view that the casting of votes by the respondent[s] in favour of opposing candidate is a serious issue and and worst form of betrayal of the electorate and party’s policy. Therefore, we hold that the defection in the subject cases shall not depend upon strict proof of observance of prerequisites as provided in Article 63-A.”

Khalid Ishaq, counsel for 10 of the MPAs, said a decision on filing an appeal in the Supreme Court would be taken after discussions.

PTI HAILS DECISION: The ruling was hailed by PTI senior leader Asad Umar, who, along with other supporters standing outside the ECP’s offices, congratulated the nation for standing against the “conspiracy, the foreign interference”.

“Today, another chapter of this conspiracy has been exposed,” he added.

“I also want to sympathise with politicians who invested millions of rupees in these turncoats. The way one chapter of this conspiracy has been reverted, we want the rest of it to meet the same fate so that the country could be steered out of the current crisis,” Umar said.

He pointed out that Hamza had 197 votes and 25 of those MPAs had now been “disqualified on a permanent basis”. The PTI leader demanded of the government to immediately announce new elections.

He also referred to the ECP, saying “if you are to announce elections, then it must not be done without consultation of major political stakeholder [PTI].”

The PTI and PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi have also approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) for declaring Hamza’s election as “illegal” in light of the SC’s interpretation.

The ECP had reserved its verdict on the reference on May 17, stating that it would be announced the next day (Wednesday) at 12 pm. However, the announcement was later postponed.

Following Hamza’s election as the chief minister on April 16, the PTI had sent a declaration for declaring the 25 MPAs as defectors to Punjab Assembly Speaker Elahi, who was also the PTI-PML-Q’s joint candidate for the CM Office.

Subsequently, Elahi had sent the reference to the ECP, urging it to de-seat these lawmakers for defecting from the PTI by casting their votes in Hamza’s favour in violation of party directions.

Most of the 25 dissident MPAs tried to justify their action of voting in favour of Hamza by claiming that they had received no directives from the party. They raised procedural objections and claimed they never received any show-cause notices — a mandatory requirement.

However, PTI’s counsel, Barrister Ali Zafar, argued that the MPAs were issued instructions by the party’s chief whip in the Punjab Assembly, as well as, Secretary General Asad Umar through a letter.

The story was filed by the News Desk. The Desk can be reached at info@thecorrespondent.com.pk.

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