• Party hands list to CEC after lawmakers fail to meet speaker
• Sources say Ashraf has already processed resignations; ECP ‘preparing for by-polls on 71 seats’

ISLAMABAD: In a move apparently aimed at preventing National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf from accepting their resignations, a group of 45 PTI lawmakers on Monday sent their handwritten withdrawals to the speaker via email and demanded the nomination of a new opposition leader from amongst them.

The PTI members also met Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja and informed him about their decision to return to the National Assembly after nine months.

However, sources in the Speaker’s Office told Dawn that the PTI’s decision to send these members back to the assembly had come too late as Mr Ashraf had already accepted the resignations of majority of these lawmakers, adding that the NA Secretariat could not issue a notification in this regard due to the power breakdown in the country. In addition, Parliament House had been sealed after short circuiting was reported there on Sunday night.

Sources said except for some five or six lawmakers — those who had personally contacted Mr Ashraf asking him not to accept their resignations or those who had submitted leave applications to the NA Secretariat — the speaker had now accepted the resignations of all PTI lawmakers and the process had been completed.

A senior ECP official, when contacted, said that he wasn’t aware of any new notification from the NA Secretariat. He said the ECP was making arrangements to hold by elections on 71 seats that had fallen vacant after the acceptance of resignations by the speaker and their de-notification.

A total of 131 MNAs had submitted resignations minutes before the election of Shehbaz Sharif as the prime minister in April. The ECP has already de-notified 81 MNAs (including reserved seats), following the acceptance of resignations by the speaker.

Sources in the Speaker’s Office said that Mr Ashraf had begun the process of accepting resignations after a PTI delegation led by former speaker Asad Qaiser met him last month and requested him to do so.

Responding to a question, a source close to Mr Ashraf said the speaker had already moved the file, which could be produced before the court, in case the PTI members challenged the decision.

The announcement by the PTI members regarding withdrawal of their resignations came in dramatic fashion as they first reached Parliament House in an attempt to meet the speaker, and, after the guards did not allow them to enter the building, marched to his official residence.

PTI members raised slogans and held a protest at the main gate of Parliament House and later marched towards the Minister’s Enclave to meet the speaker at his official residence. However, they were not allowed by the police to enter the premises, forcing them to stage a brief sit-in.

After delivering some fiery speeches, the party members reached the ECP where the CEC invited PTI’s Riaz Fatyana and Aamir Dogar for a meeting.

Prominent among those who had withdrawn their resignations are Riaz Fatyana, Tahir Sadiq, Yaqoob Sheikh, Nasrullah Dareshak, Munaza Hasan, Lal Chand Malhi, Uzma Riaz and Nausheen Hamid. It is not clear who the PTI has decided to nominate as the opposition leader in the NA to replace party dissident Raja Riaz.

Earlier in the day, PTI secretary general Asad Umar had declared on Twitter that the decision to withdraw the resignations had been taken after the speaker refused to accept all the resignations collectively.

“The next step will be the nomination of the opposition leader,” Mr Umar tweeted.

PTI’s senior vice-president Fawad Chaudhry said the decision was taken so that the party could take back the posts of the leader of the opposition and parliamentary party leader, adding that the aim of the move was to get rid of the “fake” opposition leader and prevent “turncoats” from voting for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a vote of confidence.

Talking to reporters outside the ECP, Riaz Fatyana and Aamir Dogar said the PTI members had withdrawn their resignations as they wanted to be the real opposition inside the assembly.

Mr Dogar, former chief whip of the PTI in the NA, explained that they had informed the ECP secretary in writing about the decision of the lawmakers to withdraw their resignations. “We have presented our case before the CEC and the four [ECP] members,” he noted.

Mr Dogar said the overall political situation of the country and all aspects of the resignations were discussed with the CEC and that they also presented their position regarding the appointment of the caretaker chief minister in Punjab, on which the CEC and other members said that they had fulfilled their constitutional responsibility.

“CEC Sikander Sultan Raja personally received our application and we requested him that the ECP must play its constitutional role,” said Mr Dogar who had already been de-notified as MNA from Multan by the ECP last week following the acceptance of his resignation with 34 other party colleagues.

Mr Dogar said the PTI wanted to get an “actual opposition leader appointed in the lower house who could take the election process forward”.

Iftikhar A. Khan also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2023

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