LAHORE: Five MPAs from the reserved seats quota of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) took oath of their office here on Thursday in a ‘controversial’ session of the Punjab Assembly being boycotted by the treasury.

Batool Zain, Saira Raza and Fouzia Abbas Naseem were sworn in on the reserved seats for women, while Habkook Rafiq Babbu and Samuel Yaqoob were sworn in on the minority seats.

They have replaced Uzma Kardar, Aisha Nawaz, Sajida Yousaf, Ijaz Masih and Haroon Imran Gill, who in addition to 20 general seat lawmakers had been de-notified by the Election Commission of Pakistan for deviating from party line by voting for Hamza Shehbaz in the April 16 election for the chief minister.

A senior official of the Punjab Law Department called the oath ceremony “unconstitutional”, saying the session it took place in had no legal standing. “The assembly session in which the five MPAs took oath was not called by the provincial law secretary, who is empowered to do so under the Punjab Assembly Secretariat Services Act 2022. Therefore, their oath lacks legal cover and is unconstitutional,” the official maintained.

The controversy over the session began when Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi, who is a joint candidate of the PTI and PML-Q against Hamza in the re-poll for chief minister scheduled for July 22, disallowed for two days the presentation of the provincial budget during a session summoned for the purpose in the second week of June.

Mr Elahi was demanding the Punjab chief secretary and inspector general of police appear in person in the budget session and apologise to the house for the ‘illegal’ entry of police on the assembly floor during the first poll for the CM’s office on April 16.

When the two sides couldn’t reach an amicable solution, the government got the session prorogued through the governor’s orders, and convened a new session at another location close to the assembly to present the budget.

The speaker also summoned a session purportedly requisitioned by the opposition. Proceedings of both the sessions ran parallel despite the governor promulgating an ordinance – that was later signed into law -- to clip the powers of the assembly secretary to notify summoning and/or proroguing of sessions.

The session called by the speaker, whose proceedings are still continuing, went for ‘counter law-making’ to nullify the Punjab Assembly Secretariat Services Act 2022 ‘restoring’ the independent status of the assembly. However, this legislation will become a law only when the governor signs it.

Speaker Elahi had on Tuesday put off the proceedings for July 13. But he re-scheduled the sitting for Thursday so that the five PTI MPAs notified on reserved seats by the ECP a day ago could take their oath before the ruling PML-N could challenge the commission’s orders in court.

The addition of the five lawmakers to the Punjab Assembly has improved the tally of voters from 168 to 173 for Mr Elahi against 177 of Hamza Shehbaz in the re-poll for the CM’s office. The by-elections in 20 remaining Punjab Assembly constituencies being held on July 17 will decide the future of the two contenders.

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2022

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