The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to issue a ruling by June 2 with regard to the notification of five MPAs on reserved seats in the Punjab Assembly, a matter the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf alleges is being delayed.

The seats had fallen vacant earlier this month after a total of 25 PTI dissident lawmakers, which included five elected on seats reserved for women and minorities, were de-seated for backing PML-N's Hamza Shehbaz in the Punjab chief minister's election in April. They were officially de-notified by the ECP on May 23.

Following the development, the PTI had approached the court requesting it to direct the ECP to notify the five new MPAs and "summon [them] personally". Yesterday the LHC sought a reply from the ECP today.

At the outset of the hearing today, PTI lawyer Amir Saeed Rawn told the court that the electoral body was deliberately delaying the matter.

At this, LHC Chief Justice Ameer Bhatti inquired: "Why are you not processing [the request]? Where has the process been stopped?"

Hafiz Zeeshan Ashraf, ECP's counsel, replied that the matter was in process. The electoral body, he continued, had received two requests, one from the PTI demanding the issuance of the notification and the other from PML-N pleading against it.

"We have issued notices to both the parties and a date has been fixed for hearing," Ashraf added.

Subsequently, the court instructed the ECP to pass a verdict by June 2 "even if one of the parties does not appear" and adjourned the hearing.

PTI's petition

In the petition filed on May 28, PTI's Parliamentary Leader in the Punjab Assembly Mohammad Sibtain Khan stated that according to Article 104 (5) of the Election Act, 2017, "Where a seat reserved for women or non-Muslims in an Assembly falls vacant as a result of death, resignation or disqualification of a member, it shall be filled in by the next person in order of precedence from the party's list of candidates submitted to the Commission."

The petition stated that Khan had submitted the party's priority list, according to which Batool Janjua, Saira Raza and Fouzia Abbas were next in line for women's seats while Habkook Gill and Samuel Yaqoob were nominated for minority seats.

However, the respondents — ECP, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja and Provincial Election Commission, Punjab — were not notifying them as members, the petition stated.

"The ladies and the minorities members who are on the priority list have again and again contacted the respondents and have submitted their declarations as per the election rules but the respondents are reluctant to get the documents and are not notifying them."

The petition stated that Khan had also approached the Provincial Election Commission on May 23 and 25 to accept the declarations list and documents and forward it to the chief election commissioner but the "respondent is reluctant and giving a deaf ear to the lawful request".

ECP de-seat dissident lawmakers

The votes of the 25 PTI dissidents had been instrumental in helping Hamza get over the line in the election for the chief minister; he received a total of 197 votes while 186 votes are required for a simple majority.

The dissident lawmakers were 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.

On May 20, the electoral watchdog had passed an order to de-seat these lawmakers, stating that they had defected from the party under Article 63-A of the Constitution, which bars lawmakers from voting against the party line in the election of prime minister and chief minister, in a vote of confidence or no-confidence, a Constitution amendment bill and a money bill.

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