LAHORE: In anticipation of yet another siege from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) workers ahead of a crucial vote for the Punjab chief minister’s post, the opposition and dissident lawmakers of the PTI moved to a safer place from their Gulberg hotel to the airport area on Friday.

On the other hand, the PML-N claims that over a dozen more PTI MPAs have contacted it after the Supreme Court’s nullification of the National Assembly deputy speaker’s ruling on the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, and they intended to support the opposition in the CM’s election.

The opposition leadership had kept close to 200 lawmakers, including at least 25 disgruntled PTI MPAs, at two hotels in Gulberg for over a week to make sure the government did not get to them.

“Because of the law and order and space issues, the opposition and PTI dissident lawmakers have decided to move to another hotel. We will stay at a new place till the vote for the chief minister’s election takes place,” Punjab PML-N information secretary Azma Bokhari told Dawn on Friday.

Fearing another siege, opposition and dissident lawmakers move to another hotel

Earlier this week, charged PTI workers had besieged a hotel in Gulberg where all the PML-N and PPP MPAs were staying, besides the 24 disgruntled lawmakers of the ruling party. They demanded ‘release’ of their party colleagues. Police intervention had avoided a clash between the two sides.

“We can expect a repeat of Monday’s (April 4) episode from the PTI. We want an early election for the CM so we can return to our homes,” Ms Bokhari maintained.

She further said some more PTI lawmakers had approached the PML-N after the apex court’s verdict. “Some 25 PTI MPAs have so far pledged to vote for the opposition’s candidate for the chief minister’s election, with the total number of our supporters crossing 200. More ruling party lawmakers have contacted us after the apex court’s decision and they expressed their desire to support us.

“The PTI parliamentary party is in complete tatters in Punjab and who knows the dissidents may form a forward bloc in the Punjab Assembly in the coming days,” Ms Bokhari observed.

Another PML-N leader told Dawn that his party was facing problems accommodating the disgruntled PTI lawmakers. “The number of dissenting PTI MPAs is growing so fast after the apex court decision that we have asked them to start working on formation of a forward bloc in PA. Meanwhile, we will see how to accommodate them in a future scheme of things,” he said.

At least 40 per cent of the PTI lawmakers were needed to form a forward bloc. “If PM Khan is considering en masse resignations from the National and Punjab assemblies, he should think a million times as most of the PTI lawmakers will refuse to do so,” the PML-N leader claimed confidently.

The PTI leadership has warned its MPAs against voting for the opposition’s nominee for the CM slot or they would be de-seated. However, the PML-N claims the defection clause of the Constitution was not applicable to the defectors as they weren’t planning to vote against their own party’s candidate, but one from an allied party.

The opposition’s Hamza Shehbaz is up against the PTI-PML-Q coalition’s candidate, Parvez Elahi.

The PA session is scheduled for April 16 to elect the leader of the House. However, the PML-N has approached the Lahore High Court for pulling back the session.

In the 371-member Punjab Assembly, the PTI has 183 lawmakers, PML-Q 10, PML-N 165, PPP seven, five independents and one belonging to Rah-i-Haq Party. A candidate needs 186 votes to become chief minister.

Federal Minister for Water Resources Moonis Elahi of the PMLQ had claimed that the government had the support of 189 lawmakers to defeat the opposition’s candidate.

Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2022

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