The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday reserved its verdict on a reference seeking the disqualification of 25 dissident MPAs of the PTI, who had voted for PML-N's Hamza Shehbaz in the election for the Punjab chief minister.

It will announce the verdict at 12pm tomorrow (Wednesday).

Last month, Hamza was elected Punjab chief minister, defeating PTI-PML-Q's joint candidate, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi. Hamza had bagged 197 votes, including 25 from PTI dissidents. Elahi did not get any votes as the PTI and PML-Q lawmakers had walked out of the session.

Subsequently, after a declaration by the PTI, Elahi, who is also the Punjab Assembly speaker, had sent a reference against the dissident MPAs 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.

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.

The 25 MPAs named in the reference had been issued directions by the PTI but they had cast their votes for Hamza, Elahi's reference had stated. Subsequently, the dissident MPAs had been issued show cause notices to explain their position but they had not replied, it added.

During the hearing today, Khalid Ishaq, who was representing 10 MPAs, said the lawmakers had neither received an invitation nor the agenda for the April 1 parliamentary party meeting. In addition, only two lawmakers received show cause notices on April 7, he said.

The dissident lawmakers did not receive the declaration for disqualification sent on April 18 as well, he further said, arguing that his clients were not given the opportunity to present their stance.

"The parliamentary party's decision is nowhere to be found," he told the court. "A false document was made after the parliamentary party's meeting. [Former prime minister] Imran Khan mocks the members and the ECP every day.

"[PTI's counsel] Ali Zafar rightly said that floor crossing is a cancer [but] party dictatorship is a cancer as well."

Ishaq argued that even if party chairman Imran's instructions were "correct", the MPAs could still not be disqualified.

The lawmakers had been instructed to vote for Elahi and not be absent on the day of voting, he said. He added that the MPAs were free to vote independently once Elahi boycotted the election.

"Nowhere did the party chairman issue instructions to not vote for the opposite candidate in case of a boycott."

Similar arguments were made by Javed Malik, dissident MPA Aisha Nawaz's counsel.

"A no-confidence motion was pending against Elahi. Can he send the [disqualification] reference despite that?"

PTI's arguments

Meanwhile, PTI's counsel Barrister Ali Zafar argued that it was being said the parliamentary party had not issued instructions.

"Article 63-A only mentions the parliamentary party, but doesn't talk about it in detail," he said. "The party chief or majority of the members can decide."

Zafar contended the argument that dissident MPAs were not barred from voting for the opposing candidate was wrong.

"On April 1, all MPAs were given instructions regarding Elahi," he said. "The chief whip at the Punjab Assembly had also written a letter to inform the MPAs. Imran Khan had tweeted about the decision as well which was read by millions of people."

The election for the chief minister was unable to take place on April 3, he recalled. "On April 4, PTI's secretary general Asad Umar informed the members through a letter," he said, adding that even then the dissident members went to the private hotel where PML-N's Hamza was elected CM in a mock session.

Zafar added that he had also submitted the receipts of courier services as evidence.

However, Advocate Salman Akram Raja, who was representing Aleem Khan objected, stating that additional documents could not be submitted at this stage.

Subsequently, the ECP did not allow the PTI to submit those receipts.

Meanwhile, Zafar continued that PTI gave multiple chances to dissident MPAs to justify their actions but none of them replied to the show cause notices.

"In their written responses [submitted to the ECP], they have admitted defection," he said, adding that the purpose of the ECP's hearing was to remove any shortcomings in the party chairman's declaration.

Subsequently, the ECP reserved its verdict after the completion of the arguments.

Dismissal of references against MNAs

Last week, the ECP had dismissed the PTI's references against 20 dissident MNAs, stating that they were not in line with Article 63-A.

The matter first came to light in March after several PTI lawmakers were found staying at the Sindh House in Islamabad ahead of the no-trust vote against then-prime minister Imran Khan, some of whom spoke to the media about their grievances with the party.

They had refuted allegations that they had been offered money to make the opposition's no-trust move a success but said they would vote in accordance with their "conscience".

Subsequently, the PTI had filed declarations and references against 20 members of the National Assembly, seeking their disqualification under Article 63-A of the Constitution.

Eventually, the dissident MNAs' votes were not needed in Imran's removal, as the opposition managed to stitch together support from government-allied political parties.

After Imran Khan was removed as prime minister on the night of April 9, his declarations against the dissident PTI MNAs were sent to the ECP on April 14 by the acting NA speaker.

Article 63-A

According to Article 63-A of the Constitution, 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".

The Article says that the party head has to declare in writing that the MNA concerned has defected but before making the declaration, the party head will "provide such member with an opportunity to show cause as to why such declaration may not be made against him".

After giving the member a chance to explain their reasons, the party head will forward the declaration to the speaker, who will forward it to the chief election commissioner (CEC). The CEC will then have 30 days to confirm the declaration. If confirmed by the CEC, the member "shall cease to be a member of the House and his seat shall become vacant".

According to the Article, any party that is aggrieved with the Election Commission's decision can file an appeal in the Supreme Court within a month. The apex court has 90 days to decide the matter.

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