The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) directed 20 dissident Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) members of the National Assembly (MNAs) on Thursday to submit their written replies on references seeking their disqualification under Article 63-A of the Constitution over defection from the party before adjourning the hearing till May 6.
The ECP also reserved its ruling on an objection raised by dissident PTI lawmaker Noor Alam's counsel, who said that the commission could not hear the references at present as it was incomplete since two of its members had retired.
'Did not violate Article 63-A'
During the hearing, Alam's counsel presented his arguments, contending that his client had not violated Article 63-A as he did not vote on the no-trust motion against Imran.
Article 63-A states: A parliamentarian can be disqualified on grounds of defection if he "votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, 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".
Noor Alam was among several PTI lawmakers who had expressed support for a no-trust motion against Imran Khan that eventually led to the PTI chief's ouster. He was also found to be staying at Sindh House, along with many other PTI MNAs, ahead of the no-trust vote. The PTI has alleged that these MNAs changed their loyalties in exchange for money.
These dissident lawmakers, however, had not voted on the no-trust motion against Imran as the former opposition, which is now the ruling coalition, managed to garner 174 votes — two more than the required 172 to pass the resolution for Imran's ouster — after successfully bagging the support of PTI's allied parties, the MQM and the BAP.
Alam's counsel, hence, defended his client, saying he had not voted against party policy and as such, had not violated Article 63-A.
'ECP has full authority to hear references'
Faisal Chaudhry, the counsel for the PTI, also presented his arguments today and underlined that the ECP was supposed to decide on the references within 30 days.
Countering the objection raised by Alam's counsel, he added that the ECP had complete authority to make a decision on the references.
"Election commission is not responsible for the commission being incomplete," he argued.
The counsel also requested the ECP to hear the reference against each dissident lawmaker separately, but the chief election commissioner rejected his appeal, saying that the cases were similar and could not be separated.
The ECP directed the counsel of 20 dissident PTI MNAs against whom the references have been filed to submit their written replies and adjourned the hearing till May 6.
Filing of the references
The PTI had initially announced on March 18 that it would be filing references against the party's dissident lawmakers, a day after several PTI lawmakers, who had been 'in hiding' at the Sindh House in Islamabad, revealed themselves, confirming their support for the then-opposition against esrtwhile prime minister Imran Khan.
However, it had filed references days later on April 9, right before voting on the no-trust motion against Imran and after issuing final show-cause notices to dissidents asking them to explain their position by April 1.
The PTI had filed references against MNAs Noor Alam Khan, Dr Mohammad Afzal Khan Dhandla, Nawab Sher Waseer, Raja Riaz Ahmad, Ahmed Hussain Deharr, Rana Mohammad Qasim Noon, Asim Nazeer, Amjad Farooq Khosa, Aamir Liaquat Hussain, Chaudhry Farrukh Altaf, Syed Mobeen Ahmed, Sayed Sami-ul-Hassan Gillani, Mohammad Abdul Ghaffar Wattoo, Sayed Basit Ahmad Sultan, Aamir Talal Gopang, Sardar Riaz Mehmood Khan Mazari, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Wajiha Qamar, Nuzhat Pathan and Javeria Zafar.
The references were not sent directly to the ECP but the National Assembly speaker, who was Asad Qaiser at the time. Qasim Suri, who was the deputy speaker at the time and was serving as the acting speaker after Qaiser's resignation, then sent declarations against the dissident lawmakers to the chief election commissioner on April 14.
On Monday, the ECP had issued notices to the 20 dissident MNAs, asking them to appear before it on April 28.
The ECP also issued notices to 26 dissident PTI MPAs from the Punjab Assembly, asking them to appear before the electoral watchdog on May 6. References against them were sent to the ECP by Punjab Assembly Speaker Chauhdry Parvez Elahi.