Unprecedented-LHC-stays-its-own-judicial-proceedings-The-Correspondent

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday instructed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to notify PTI members on five reserved seats of the Punjab Assembly (PA) that fell vacant following the de-seating of 25 lawmakers over defection.

Last month, 25 PTI dissident lawmakers, including five elected on seats reserved for women and minorities, were de-seated for voting for PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz in the Punjab chief minister’s election. They were officially de-notified by the ECP on May 23.

The PTI had filed a petition in the LHC on May 28 requesting it to direct the electoral watchdog to notify the five new MPAs and “summon [them] personally”. Subsequently, the high court had given the ECP a deadline for June 2 to decide the matter.

The commission had, however, decided that the notification would be stayed until by-elections were held in the province on July 17.

During the open court hearing, PTI lawyer Ali Zafar argued that the electoral body was bound to notify PTI members on the reserved seats after de-seating defecting lawmakers.

“The list provided by political parties are not subject to change,” he said.

He recalled that when the PTI had approached the commission for notifying their members on the five reserved seats, the ECP had contended that the de-seating of 20 members had changed the total number of seats for each party.

The lawyer contended that this stance by the commission was “illegal”.

Punjab Advocate General Shahzad Shaukat said that nominations on reserved seats were supposed to be held after the general polls.

“Now, the positions of parties have changed because of 20 vacant seats. I believe the matter should be taken to a larger bench,” he added.

Subsequently, the LHC directed the ECP to issue a notification regarding the reserved seats and declared its previous decision on the matter “null and void”.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Zafar said that the LHC decision had “changed the numbers game” in the provincial assembly. After the notification of five reserved seats, the PTI will become the majority party, he said.

“This means that the existing chief minister will now have to take a vote of confidence because the numbers are greater on our end,” the PTI’s counsel said.

THE PETITION: In its petition filed on June 3, Zainab Umair, wife of PTI MPA Umair Khan Niazi, said that according to Article 104 (5) of the Election Act, 2017, “Where a seat reserved for women or non-Muslims in an Assembly falls vacant as a result of death, resignation or disqualification of a member, it shall be filled in by the next person in order of precedence from the party’s list of candidates submitted to the Commission.”

The petition stated that no by-elections for disqualified members of Punjab Assembly were needed for the aforementioned (reserved) seats. “The party list was already in the possession of ECP; therefore, it was needed that ECP issue the notifications to the declared/elected MPAs for the 5 Reserve Seats.”

Zainab contended that the order of ECP “clearly shows its bias and prejudice against the petitioner (PTI) and the advantages ECP is adamant upon providing to the PML-N”.

“Its order is an erroneous assumption of jurisdiction as ECP does not possess the power or authority to interpret the Constitution as vested with the Honourable Courts of Pakistan,” she added.

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