ECP delays decision on disqualification of Punjab defectors of PTI

— With Damocles sword of Supreme Court defections ruling hanging over Hamza Shehbaz, his future as Punjab chief minister hangs in balance

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) postponed indefinitely its verdict on a reference seeking the disqualification of 25 Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers who crossed the floor and voted for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president Hamza Shehbaz during the election for the post of Punjab chief minister.

The commission had reserved the ruling on Tuesday.

Shehbaz was elected as the province’s new chief executive on April 16 after a chaotic session of the Punjab Assembly where legislators of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) scuffled with one another.

He polled 197 votes — including from 24 PTI parliamentarians, two independents and the lone Rah-i-Haq Party lawmaker — while his opponent, Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, a joint candidate of the PTI and Q League, failed to secure a single vote from the assembly since the two parties boycotted the voting process.

PTI lawmakers who voted in favour of Shehbaz included Abdul Aleem Khan, Asad Khokhar, Nauman Langrial, Ejaz Alam Augustine, Ajmal Cheema, Saeed Akbar, Faisal Jawana, and Zawar Warraich, among others.

Subsequently, on April 20, Speaker Elahi forwarded to the commission the reference against the defecting lawmakers seeking their lifetime disqualification under Article-63 of the Constitution on charges of violating party discipline.

The reference, however, doesn’t apply to independent lawmakers including Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Ahmed Ali, Jugnu Mohsin, Bilal Asghar Warraich and Raja Sagheer.

Article 63-A, the law on floor-crossing, provides that MPs who defect could lose their seats if they then vote against their party, but the government aims to find out whether that also applies before they cast their votes.

Article 63-A reads that an MP can be disqualified on grounds of defection if they “vote or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relation to the election of the prime minister or chief minister; or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or a money bill (budget) or a Constitution (amendment) bill”.

A day before the commission’s decision, the Supreme Court ruled that dissident lawmakers could not cast their vote as it interpreted Article 63-A at the request of the president.

“The vote of a dissident lawmaker cannot be counted,” it ruled.

The court, however, did not clearly say whether a dissident lawmaker could be de-seated for voting against the party policy. “This is the right time for legislation on deviation [from party policy].”

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