Hamza Shehbaz and Parvez Elahi
Hamza Shehbaz and Parvez Elahi

THE Supreme Court’s recent order to hold a run-off election for the Punjab chief minister has raised a pertinent legal question: how has a person who didn’t legally win the election been running the affairs of the largest province of the country for over three months? This further casts doubts over the legality of the recently passed provincial budget by the Hamza government.

However, the apex court has not elucidated these issues clearly in its written order, announced on Saturday.

Advocate Waseem Butt says though the court verdict has not directly touched the issues, it has indirectly given legal cover to the situation, as both parties to the litigation have struck a compromise by accepting the ‘de facto doctrine’, whatever has been done is legally valid.

Analysts believe the SC verdict will create another legal lacuna when the Punjab Assembly is complete, after the July 17 by-polls on its 20 seats.

Read: Punjab number game 2.0 — the quagmire continues

“As the July 22 (Punjab Assembly) session will see a run-off poll to the April 16 exercise, the 25 new MPAs will be deemed new voters not part of the previous poll. It will be a fresh poll and not a run-off,” Advocate Usama Khawar asserts.

He says the parliamentary parties not part of the litigation, like the PPP, can challenge this flaw, while the de-seated PTI defectors may also question the validity of the votes of the new members.

Mr Khawar points out another catch in the apex court order: it neither mentions any lacuna that made the Supreme Court suspend the Lahore High Court order nor the law or proviso as the basis for its ‘intervention’.

Advocate Mubeen Qazi, however, explains that on July 22, first either of the two candidates for the chief minister’s office – Hamza Shehbaz and Parvez Elahi – will have to show an absolute majority — support of at least 186 MPAs out of the 371-strong Punjab Assembly. If neither gets this number, a second round or a run-off poll will be held in which the winner will need just one more vote than his rival (majority of the members present in the session), he adds.

Hamza currently enjoys the support of 177 MPAs and Mr Elahi has improved his tally from 168 in the April 16 contest to 173 after the election commission, as per LHC orders, notified on Friday night five PTI MPAs against reserved seats from the priority list the party submitted before the 2018 general elections. The court had turned down the PML-N’s appeal for re-calculating the reserved seats after excluding the 20 de-seated PTI MPAs from the PTI’s numerical strength.

In the July 17 by-polls, if the PTI manages to grab at least 13 of the 20 seats, it may turn the tables on Hamza Shehbaz, who needs eight seats to ensure a simple majority in the house.

PTI chairman Imran Khan has already kicked off the election campaign — more against the party’s defectors, who have been given PML-N tickets, than for the new candidates.

Hamza had clinched the CM’s office by securing 197 out of 371 votes in the Punjab Assembly during the controversial April 16 election. His tally included 25 votes of PTI defectors, five of them elected against reserved seats.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2022

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