Punjab number game 2.0 — the quagmire continues
After the Lahore High Court's decision today, ordering a re-counting of votes, excluding those by PTI dissident lawmakers, for the Punjab chief minister's election held on April 16, the numbers game in the province has once again become the focus.
In its verdict, the high court retrospectively applied the Supreme Court's May 17 verdict on a presidential reference seeking interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution, which is related to the status of defecting lawmakers. The apex court had said that votes of defecting lawmakers will not be counted in the four instances outlined under Article 63-A.
These four instances are the election of prime minister and chief minister; a vote of confidence or no-confidence; a Constitution amendment bill; and a money bill.
During the April 16 Punjab CM election, Hamza Shehbaz had bagged 197 votes, including 25 from PTI dissidents, four from independents, and one from the lone Rah-i-Haq Party MPA. Five rebel PML-N lawmakers had abstained from voting in favour of Hamza.
The magic number required to show majority in the 371-strong house is 186.
In light of the LHC verdict, once a re-counting of the votes happens tomorrow, Hamza's tally will be trimmed to 172 votes after the 25 votes by PTI dissident lawmakers are excluded.
In that case, as per the high court's order, because Hamza loses his majority, a re-election will take place under Article 130(4) of the Constitution, which means that in this second round of voting, a member does not need to show support of a majority (186 votes) but simply requires more votes than any other candidate to be elected the chief minister.
So, what does the number game tell us now?
It appears that in the run-off election, Hamza Shehbaz will be able to retain his CMship, primarily because he has been able to get back the support of three rebel PML-N lawmakers who had earlier not taken part in the election.
With the addition of these three MPAs, Hamza's tally has reached 175 — constituting 163 from the PML-N, seven from the PPP, four independent lawmakers, and one from the Rah-i-Haq Party.
The fifth independent MPA in the House, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has so far distanced himself from the entire political drama and is not expected to vote for either side.
The PTI-PML-Q alliance currently has a total of 168 votes, constituting 158 PTI lawmakers and 10 from the PML-Q.
However, the LHC has ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to notify members of the PTI on five reserved seats in the Punjab Assembly following the disqualification of 25 MPAs over defection during the election of Hamza. The ECP is yet to act on the court's order but if these five members are notified before tomorrow's session, the strength of the PTI-PML-Q alliance would rise to 173 votes.
Clearly, if things remain the same, the PML-N will edge out its opponents by two votes and Hamza Shehbaz will become the chief minister again.
It is said that the PML-Q's candidate for the top post, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, has been making efforts to win over the support of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan; but even if that happens, he will be short by one vote. As things stand, the only way Elahi can be elected chief minister is if some members siding with Hamza abstain from voting tomorrow.
However, with by-elections scheduled for July 17 on 20 seats that fell vacant after the disqualification of PTI's dissident lawmakers, the Punjab number game will surely change again.