• Court bars announcement of by-poll schedule
• Seeks replies from NA speaker, election commission
• ECP spox claims order won’t affect March by-elections

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Wednesday suspended the acceptance of resignations of 43 MNAs of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) by the National Assembly speaker and their subsequent notification by the Election Com­m­i­ssion of Pakistan (ECP), ostensibly paving the way for their return to parliament.

Issuing an interim order on a petition filed by Riaz Fatyana and other lawma­k­ers of the PTI, Justice Sh­­a­­hid Karim also dire­c­ted the ECP not to ann­ounce a schedule for by-polls in these constituencies.

Barr­i­s­ter Syed Ali Zafar opened his arguments on the merits of the case saying the petitioners had withdrawn their en masse resignat­ions and an announcement in this regard was aired by television channels. He said a written request was sent to NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Jan 23.

However, he alleged that the speaker, in order to stop one of the 43 petitioners from becoming the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, and fulfilling their other constitutional and legal duties, accepted their resignations.

The lawyer argued that the speaker could not acc­ept the resignation of any MNA without following the three-pronged procedure prescribed by the Con­stitution and as dec­ided by the Supreme Court and the higher courts. He pointed out that the en masse resignations could not be accepted and each MNA had to give an application in his own handwriting while the resignations must be voluntary and intended to be resignations. And for verification of these matters, a personal hearing of each MNA who desires to resign must be undertaken by the speaker, he added.

Barrister Zafar said the speaker had initially withdrawn a ruling of the then deputy speaker, Qasim Suri, who had accepted mass resignations of the MNAs on the ground that the due procedure had not been followed. He said the speaker had told a delegation of the PTI that he would call each member individually to verify the resignations.

However, he said, the speaker after knowing the PTI lawmakers had announced return to the National Assembly, overruled his constitutional decision and decided to accept the resignations without calling the MNAs.

After hearing the arguments, Justice Karim suspended the impugned decisions of the NA speaker as well as the ECP and also issued them notices for submission of replies for a date to be fixed later by the office.

In a statement on Wednesday night, an ECP spokesperson dispelled an impression about the suspension of by-polls on the seats of the 43 MNAs, saying the order would not affect the schedule of the polls already announced for Mar 16 and 19 on a total of 30 seats in Punjab as the seats involved in the case before the court were separate from those where by-polls had been announced.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2023

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