The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday accepted a plea filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to notify five of its members on Punjab Assembly reserved seats that had fallen vacant after lawmakers were deseated over voting against party directions in the chief minister’s election.
In its plea, the PTI had sought the reversal of an ECP decision to defer the issuance of a notification on the reserved seats until after by-elections for the 20 vacant seats. The LHC subsequently heard all arguments of relevant stakeholders before rendering its judgment.
Last month, 25 PTI dissident lawmakers, including five elected on seats reserved for women and minorities, were de-seated after they voted for the PMLN’s Hamza Shehbaz as the chief minister of Punjab against the PTI’s directions to vote for PMLQ’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. They were officially de-notified by the ECP on May 23 after a Supreme Court ruling confirmed their actions fell under the purview of Article 63A.
The PTI then filed a petition in the LHC on May 28, seeking a reversal of the decision and the immediate notification of five new MPAs on the reserved seats, maintaining that the electoral body was bound to do so under Section 6 of Article 224 of the Constitution. The lawmakers who were deseated and would be replaced by new members under the LHC ruling are Uzma Kardar, Aisha Nawaz, Sajida Yousaf, Ijaz Masih and Haroon Imran Gill.
Speaking to media after the verdict’s announcement, PTI counsel Ali Zafar welcomed the ruling, and termed it a “game-changer.” He claimed this had resulted in the PMLN losing its majority, adding that Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz would now have to take a fresh vote of confidence.
However, this is unlikely as the overall numbers still favor the PMLN by a very narrow margin—leaving the ultimate fate of the Punjab Assembly in the hands of the by-elections for 20 vacant seats of lawmakers deseated by the ECP.
The PTI originally had 183 members in the Punjab Assembly, which dropped to 158 following the defection of 25 lawmakers. Due to its support for Elahi, it also enjoys the backing of the PMLQ’s lawmakers, raising total numbers to 168. With the new five reserved members, the total numbers of the PTI-PMLQ are 173.
By contrast, the PMLN—minus the 25 PTI dissidents—has 165 lawmakers of its own. In addition, it has the support of 7 PPP MPAs, raising their joint numbers to 172. Hamza is expected to retain the support of the Rah-i-Haq party—1 seat—and has already won back the support of three of five rebel PMLN MPAs, bringing his total to 175. As it stands, neither party has a commanding majority of 186 needed to elect a new chief minister. However, in case of a fresh vote of confidence, Hamza only needs to secure the most votes of the MPAs present on voting day.