The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja to submit their responses on April 29 in connection with a reference to de-seat dissident PTI lawmakers in the Punjab Assembly.
Justice Shujaat Ali Khan heard the petition which was filed by the party's parliamentary leader in the provincial assembly, Muhammad Sibtain Khan.
Earlier this month, PML-N's Hamza Shehbaz won the election for Punjab chief minister, defeating PTI-PML-Q's joint candidate, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi. Hamza had bagged 197 votes, including 26 from PTI dissidents, while Elahi did not get any as the PTI and PML-Q lawmakers felt they were not allowed to vote.
Subsequently, Punjab Asembly Speaker Elahi sent a reference against the dissident MPAs to the ECP, urging it to declare them defected from the PTI since they had violated party discipline.
The petition filed in the LHC, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, stated that 25 lawmakers cast their votes in favour of the joint opposition's candidate Hamza Shehbaz in violation of party directions.
These lawmakers were: Raja Sagheer Ahmad, Malik Ghulam Rasool Sanga, Saeed Akbar Khan, Muhammad Ajmal, Faisal Hayat, Mehr Muhammad Aslam, Mian Khalid Mehmood, Abdul Aleem Khan, Nazir Ahmad Chohan, Muhammad Amin Zulqarnain, Malik Nauman Langrial, Muhammad Salman, Zawar Hussain Warraich, Nazir Ahmad Khan, Fida Hussain, Zahra Batool, Muhammad Tahir, Ayesha Nawaz, Sajida Yousaf, Haroon Imran Gill, Uzma Kardar, Malik Asad Ali, Ijaz Masih, Muhammad Sibtain Raza and Mohsin Atta Khosa.
The petition contended that under Article 63-A(1)(b)(i) of the Constitution, if any member of a parliamentary party votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relation to the election of a prime minister or chief minister, he may be declared in writing by the party head to have defected from the political party, and the party head may forward a copy of the declaration to the presiding officer and the chief election commissioner and shall similarly forward a copy thereof to the member concerned.
The 25 MPAs named in the petition had been issued directions by the PTI but they had cast their votes for Hamza, it stated. Subsequently, the dissident MPAs had been issued show cause notices to explain their position but they had not replied, it added.
Finally, PTI Chairman Imran Khan "passed a declaration for disqualification on the ground of defection under Article 63-A(1)(b)(i) ... and forwarded this declaration to the Punjab Assembly speaker and to the respondents for the de-seating of the above said members under Article 63-A of the Constitution", the petition said, adding that the declaration was then forwarded to the ECP.
The ECP and the chief election commissioner were "duty bound to de-seat above-said parliamentarians as they have committed violation of the party discipline and cast their votes for Hamza Shehbaz but the said [declaration] is pending before respondents", it said.
It added that the ECP and CEC were "lingering on the matter on one pretext or the other and using delaying tactics to facilitate the defected parliamentarians so they can enjoy as a member of Punjab Assembly for a long time".
The dissident lawmakers should have been "disqualified" immediately but the ECP and CEC were "facilitating" them so they could cast "illegal" votes on the no-confidence resolution against the Punjab Assembly deputy speaker, it said.
The matter had not even been fixed for hearing yet and no notices had been issued to the lawmakers concerned by the election commission despite the commission being bound to decide the matter within 30 days, it stated.
The petition requested the court to issue directions to the ECP and CEC to decide the matter and "de-seat [the MPAs] immediately". It also asked the court to suspend the membership of the 25 dissident MPAs while the reference was being heard and to stop them from voting on the no-confidence resolution against the deputy speaker.
The ECP had on Monday issued notices to 46 dissident members of the National and Punjab assemblies, asking them to appear before it on April 28 and May 6, respectively.
The decision was taken at an ECP meeting during which a letter written to the commission by PTI chairman Imran was deliberated upon.