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

The commission will announce the verdict at 12pm today (Wednesday).

The reference was filed under Article 63-A of the Constitution dealing with defection from a political party.

Mr Shehbaz was elected the chief minister last month, defeating PTI and PML-Q’s joint candidate, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi. Mr Shehbaz bagged 197 votes, including 25 from PTI dissidents. Mr Elahi, who is also the Punjab Assembly speaker, 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, Mr Elahi sent a reference against the dissident MPAs to the ECP, urging it to deseat these lawmakers for defecting from the PTI by casting their votes in Mr Shehbaz’s favour in violation of party directions.

A three-member bench of the ECP, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, took up the reference for hearing on Tuesday.

Khalid Ishaq, who was representing dissident MPAs, argued that the lawmakers had neither received an invitation nor the agenda for PTI’s April 1 parliamentary party meeting. He pointed out that only two lawmakers received show-cause notices on that date.

The dissident lawmakers did not receive the declaration for disqualification sent on April 18 as well, he 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 bench, alleging that a false document was made after the parliamentary party’s meeting.

Mr Ishaq argued that even if PTI chairman Imran Khan’s instructions were “correct”, the MPAs could still not be disqualified.

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

“Nowhere did the party chairman issue instructions to not vote for the opposite candidate in case of a boycott,” he argued.

‘Sleepwalking defence’

While responding to the argument that the MPAs were not aware of the directions of the parliamentary party about voting for Mr Elahi, the PTI counsel said, “This reminds me of what we call the sleepwalking defence” — a term used for a legal argument that a criminal defendant is not culpable because he or she acted while in a sleep-like state, without consciousness or intent to commit a crime.

Mr Zafar said PTI’s parliamentary party meetings were held on April 1 and April 5 and several notices were issued to all MPAs and the party’s decision was also reported in the media. However, the MPAs who chose not to appear before the party head were rightly declared to have defected, he noted.

After hearing both sides, the ECP reserved its judgement, which would be ann­ou­nced today (Wednesday) at 12 noon.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2022

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