LAHORE: Beleaguered Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz has refused to step down after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday de-seated 25 dissident lawmakers of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) who voted for him in the CM’s election, while the opposition PTI-PML-Q alliance sees a run-off election in the coming days claiming Hamza cannot “illegally” hold the office for long.

The allocation of five vacant reserved seats will assume an important role if the run-off election is held. Of the 25 de-seated PTI MPAs, five were elected on reserved seats. The ECP, according to legal experts, will now distribute these seats as per the current strength of each party in the Punjab Assembly — meaning if the PTI gets the most share it may be able to clinch the coveted chief minister’s post.

As Hamza has decided to follow in the footsteps of ousted prime minister Imran Khan to ‘play till the last ball’, the PTI says it will send the CM home through legal means in line with the apex court and ECP’s decisions.

“The game for the fake CM is over after de-seating of the 25 lotas (turncoats),” former federal minister Moonis Elahi of the PML-Q said and added that after losing the majority in the House, Hamza has no moral or legal grounds to cling to the office.

Five reserved seats in assembly may become deciding factor in run-off poll for CM

The PTI-PML-Q joint candidate for the CM’s slot, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, senses his victory after the ECP’s decision. “I am Imran Khan’s candidate and after taking oath as the CM, I will dissolve the assemblies if he asks me,” Mr Elahi said, adding the ECP’s verdict is a victory for truth and justice.

Former federal minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a tweet: “Today the imported government in Punjab has practically ended. The so-called CM Hamza needs to have some shame and resign forthwith.”

Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar has already made it clear that Hamza Shehbaz was not going to resign and still had a majority in the Punjab Assembly. PML-N deputy secretary general Attaullah Tarar told a presser here that the ECP’s decision had no impact on Hamza’s office.

“Either a governor can ask the CM to take a vote of confidence or the opposition can bring a no-trust motion against him. Both options do not seem workable as the governor’s office is vacant, and the opposition needs 186 votes to oust the CM, which it does not have. Similarly, the acting governor cannot ask the CM to take a vote of confidence,” he maintained.

Mr Tarar claimed the PML-N enjoys the support of 177 members in the Punjab Assembly against 168 of the PTI-PML-Q combined. He also claimed the PML-N will get three of the five reserved seats, which would take its tally to 180, adding their five ‘rebel’ MPAs had no choice but to stay with the party.

On the other hand, the PTI-PML-Q alliance believes since it lost five reserved seats following the ECP decision, it would get the same back, thus be in a good position to have its candidate (Elahi) elected as the CM in a run-off election.

The de-seated MPAs belonging to Jahangir Tareen, Aleem Khan and Asad Khokhar groups are disappointed over the ECP’s decision and most of them are mulling moving the court. However, others want to contest by-polls on PML-N tickets.

Senior lawyer Khurram Chughtai told Dawn that the five reserved seats would be distributed among the parties on the basis of their current strength in the PA. “However, after the apex court and ECP verdicts on defection, the fate of Hamza Shehbaz’s government is hanging in the balance,” he believed.

“The five PML-N dissident MPAs who had not voted for Hamza in the April 16 election are going to hold a meeting with the PTI leadership to chalk out a strategy,” a party insider said.

Party position

The Punjab Assembly’s current strength is 346 members: the PTI has 158 lawmakers, its ally PML-Q 10, the PML-N 165, PPP seven, five independents and one Rah-i-Haq Party.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2022

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