LAHORE: In a landmark ruling that could have far-reaching implications, the Lahore High Court (LHC) Wednesday suspended the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to de-notify 43 lawmakers of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party.
The court has also temporarily postponed the by-elections in the constituencies represented by the de-notified members, originally scheduled to take place in two phases on March 16 and 19, until further notice.
The ruling came after a plea was filed by Riaz Fatyana and other lawmakers challenging the National Assembly speaker’s approval of their resignations. The commission had acted after the speaker, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, sent the resignation letters to the electoral body.
Ashraf approved the letters last month after former prime minister Imran Khan indicated a return of his party to the parliament to appoint one of its members as the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.
However, the development meant that only dissident lawmakers of the party, headed by “turncoat” opposition leader Raja Riaz Ahmed, remained in the National Assembly.
Fawad Chaudhry, senior vice president of the party, had said the main reason for returning to the parliament was to remove Ahmed from the post since the parliament had “no importance”.
During the proceedings, Syed Ali Zafar, a lawyer for the PTI party, argued that its MPs had withdrawn their resignations prior to being accepted by the speaker of the National Assembly.
Zafar argued the speaker’s decision to accept the resignations was against the law and politically motivated, as the retractions made the speaker powerless to accept the resignations.
He also claimed that the speaker’s order was in violation of Supreme Court rules and that he had not even consulted with the PTI lawmakers before accepting their resignations.
As a result of Zafar’s arguments, the court suspended the speaker’s decision and the order from the election tribunal de-notifying the MPs.
The court also issued notices to the federal government and the ECP, instructing them to submit their responses in the matter at the next hearing.
More than 120 MPs loyal to former prime minister Khan resigned en masse on April 11, two days after he was ousted following a contentious vote of no-confidence marred by unprobed allegations of military intervention.
Former deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Qasim Suri — who was performing his duties as acting speaker after then-incumbent Asad Qaiser’s resignation — accepted the resignation letters on April 15.
However, once Ashraf was elected as the speaker, he decided to verify the resignations by interviewing lawmakers individually, but instead decided in favour of stalling the entire process by blaming it on the lawmakers’ reluctance to step down.
Such situations require a lot of thought process, he had said, declaring he will not accept the resignation letters until he was completely satisfied they were not stepping down under pressure.
However, after Khan hinted at “testing” the prime minister through a confidence vote in a tit-for-tat move similar to the one he himself had faced, Ashraf hastily accepted the resignations and sent the list to the commission.