The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Friday suspended a notification for by-elections on 24 National Assembly seats from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was previously scheduled to be held on March 16 and 19, respectively.

Twenty-four former MNAs from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had on Feb 23 filed a plea in the PHC against the acceptance of their resignations by the National Assembly speaker and their subsequent de-notification by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

These petitioners include former NA speaker Asad Qaiser, five ex-federal ministers Pervez Khattak, Murad Saeed, Omar Ayub Khan, Ali Amin Khan and Sheharyar Afridi and ex-MNA Imran Khattak.

As many as 123 PTI MNAs had resigned en masse from the lower house of Parliament following the ouster of PTI chief Imran Khan in April last year in a vote of no confidence.

The former lawmakers filed two identical petitions with the court requesting it to set aside four notifications issued by the NA speaker and the ECP on the matter.

They had also sought interim relief seeking suspension of those notifications and orders for the ECP not to hold by-polls in their constituencies until the disposal of their petitions. The petitioners had also requested the court to declare the speaker’s act of accepting their resignations a violation of the law in line with Supreme Court judgements.

The ECP has already announced the schedule for the by-polls to fill vacant seats and polling in the 24 constituencies will be held on March 16 and 19, respectively.

On March 16, the polling will be held on six seats, which are: NA-4 Swat, NA-17 Haripur, NA-18 Swabi, NA-25 Nowshera, NA-26 Nowshera, NA-32 Kohat, NA-38 DI Khan and NA-43 Khyber.

On March 19, the constituencies where polling will be held include NA-2 Swat, NA-3 Swat, NA-5 Upper Dir, NA-6 Lower Dir, NA-7 Lower Dir, NA-8 Malakand, NA- 9 Buner, NA-16 Abbottabad, NA-19 Swabi, NA-20 Mardan, NA-29 Peshawar, NA-30 Peshawar, NA-34 Karak, NA-40 Bajaur, NA-42 Mohmand and NA-44 Khyber.

The hearing

Today, Justice S. M. Atiq Shah and Justice Arshad Ali conducted a hearing on the petition.

At the outset of the proceedings, the petitioners’ lawyer Barrister Gohar Khan argued that the NA speaker had accepted the resignations of PTI members without verification.

“The PTI leadership had demanded that resignations of all 123 members be accepted at once but the request was not paid heed to,” he told the court.

The counsel responded that PTI chief Imran Khan announced on media that “we are going back to the Assembly and that is enough.”

“Are you playing with parliament? That if the resignation is approved, it is fine, or else you will go back,” Justice Shah asked the PTI counsel.

Deputy Attorney General Sanaullah said none of PTI lawmakers made it to the legislature in the last 11 months.

Petition

The former lawmakers had filed two identical petitions through Barrister Gohar Khan.

One of the petitions was filed by eight of the ex-MNAs whose resignations were accepted by the speaker on Jan 17 and the same day the ECP issued a notification to de-notify them.

These petitioners include former NA speaker Asad Qaiser, five ex-federal ministers Pervez Khattak, Murad Saeed, Omar Ayub Khan, Ali Amin Khan and Sheharyar Afridi and ex-MNA Imran Khattak.

The other petition was jointly filed by 16 of the ex-MNAs whose resignations were accepted by the speaker on Jan 20 and the ECP had de-notify them through a notification the same day.

The petitioners said resignation letters were obtained by the PTI from its 123 National Assembly members, including petitioners.

They said they had acted on the directions of the party and for the political objective only of arriving at an agreement with the then opposition parties for holding fresh elections so that a new government could be formed with the real mandate of the people and to address the impasse prevailing in the country.

The petitioners said PTI vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi wrote a letter to the NA speaker on Dec 15 calling upon him to accept all resignations en masse but the latter said in the Dec 22 reply that he should be inviting MNAs in his chamber individually for verification of resignations. They said contrary to that communication, the speaker never called them for that verification.

The petitioners said a delegation of PTI headed by former NA speaker Asad Qaiser met the speaker on Dec 29 and was told that individual verification was the legal requirement, so all MNAs should be called individually to confirm their resignations.

They said the PTI announced the return of its MNAs to the house to demand the office of the leader of the opposition, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and others, the speaker “unlawfully” accepted the resignations of 35 MNAs and issued a notification on Jan 17, while resignations of 35 other MNAs were accepted on Jan 20.

The petitioners contended that under Article 64 of the Constitution, the speaker while receiving the resignation of a member had a duty to ascertain personally whether it was signed by the person resigning, whether it was voluntary and whether it was intended to act as a resignation.

They said unless those three requirements were “satisfied and proved,” the resignations couldn’t be effective.

The petitioners contended that the Supreme Court, in one of its judgements, had laid down an elaborate procedure for the acceptance of a resignation of a member of the National Assembly declaring that the member must be heard and the speaker must ascertain whether the resignation was genuine, voluntary and the member intended to resign.

They said the ECP was equally bound not to accept the decision of the NA speaker unless that process was followed.

The petitioners contended that they had never appeared before the speaker and therefore, their resignations should have not been accepted.

The former lawmakers said the resignations accepted en masse could not be treated as resignations under the law and that their move was meant to force rulers into calling elections in the country.

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