Friday August 19, 2022

4-1 verdict on pleas against CM’s election: Hamza stays but votes to be recounted

No change took place in the official position of Hamza Shehbaz as the LHC ordered recount of the votes cast for election of the Punjab CM, excluding 25 Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) dissidents

Punjab CM Hamza Shahbaz. Photo: The News/File
Punjab CM Hamza Shahbaz. Photo: The News/File

LAHORE: No change took place in the official position of Hamza Shehbaz on Thursday, as the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered recount of the votes cast for election of the Punjab chief minister, excluding 25 Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) dissidents, in its verdict on the petitions filed by the against PMLN leader’s election as the CM.

A five-member larger bench of the LHC, headed by Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, and comprising Justice Shahid Jamil, Justice Shehram Sarwar, Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh announced the verdict on the PTI’s petitions.

In a split decision, four judges — Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, Justice Shahid Jamil and Justice Shehram Sarwar — ordered the vote recount, while Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi wrote his dissenting note, and restored Usman Buzdar as the Punjab chief minister.

As per the four judges’ verdict, votes would be recounted and the candidate securing a majority of voteswould be declared the chief minister. Article 130(4) of the Constitution of Pakistan governs the election of chief ministers, under which there is an obligation of a majority of 186 votes. Hamza will no longer be the chief minister if he doesn’t retain the required majority after exclusion of 25 votes. However, functions and powers exercised by Hamza Shehbaz as the chief minister, and his cabinet would be protected under de facto doctrine, it added. The second round of polls [re-election] will be held as per Article 130(4) in case no one gets the majority after a vote recount.

“We could, possibly direct fresh election after declaring the election as unlawful, but it would nullify the direction given by the apex court to the state functionaries for the conduct of election in accordance with the Constitution and the decision given by the learned division bench of this court, appointing deputy speaker as presiding officer and directing for the conduct of the election on 16th April 2022," the verdict stated.

It further said that the court could also not quash the notification issued by the presiding officer. However, the bench disposed of the appeals challenging the oath-taking of Hamza Shehbaz after terming it an ancillary matter.

The verdict obliged the Punjab governor to ensure that the PA session, summoned by him at 4pm on July 1, is held without fail, and not prorogued without vote recount and holding of the poll, if necessary.

In addition to this, the governor must ensure administering an oath to the new CM on July 2, by 11am. The bench held that any attempt of disorder from any quarter would be taken as contempt of the court and would be proceeded on formal information by any person.

In his dissenting note, Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi said that the votes of the 25 PTI dissidents cast in favour of Hamza were "admitted", therefore, there was no need to repeat the exercise of counting/recounting.

The judge noted that in the 371-strong PA, the requisite number needed to become chief minister was 186 votes. He went on to say that from the record, Hamza obtained 197 votes. Justice Sethi also said that after excluding the 25 votes, Hamza had 172 votes. "Therefore, he is not member elected within the contemplation of Article 130(4) of the Constitution and being a stranger to the office of chief minister, cannot be allowed to hold the office," he said.

He went on to say that it would give political advantage to the respondent over the other contesting candidate. "This, the office of a non-elected member cannot be protected which even otherwise appear[s] to be against the mandate of Article133 of the Constitution," he said.

Justice Sethi said that in view of the above, the constitutional petitions were allowed. "Consequently, Usman Ahmed Khan Buzdar, is restored to the office of Chief Minister of the Punjab with immediate effect, as he was on said date," he said.

PMLN leader Attaullah Tarar, later on talking to the media, said they were happy and content as the party had the required numbers. He said that PMLN had 177 votes and that means a majority of nine votes in the house even if the dissidents’ votes were not counted.

He said the SC, in its verdict on presidential reference seeking the interpretation of Article 163(A), stated that the votes cast against the party policy would not be counted. "The court neither nullified the election nor ordered re-election; therefore, Hamza Shehbaz will remain the chief minister," Tarar said, adding that this is a positive decision and the party accepted it.

As per the number game, PMLN 164 MPAs, [one Faisal Niazi has submitted resignation, but not accepted yet], and the PPP with 7 MPAs, jointly form a strength of 171. With four independents and one from Rah-e-Haq Party, the PMLN support stands at 176. Chaudhry Nisar, an independent MPA, is yet to decide about who to vote.

Separately, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz said the LHC verdict had ended a constitutional crisis in the province. He said the PMLN had always respected the court verdicts and it would do so now.

Talking to the MPAs at Model Town, he said the ongoing constitutional crisis for the last three months in Punjab would be done away with by the judgement. Hamza hoped that the effects of the verdict would prove to be good for the people of Punjab.

Meanwhile, PTI Chairman Imran Khan said his party would approach the SC against the LHC verdict. He questioned how Hamza could remain CM when the high court had ordered a recount.

Also, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi held consultations with PTI Chairman Imran Khan, senior party leadership through video-link as well as his legal team after the LHC decision on Thursday.

He decided after consultations that the LHC decision would be challenged in the SC and time would be sought for the election, and the next political and legal strategy would be worked out in further consultations.

The meeting was attended by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Senator Ali Zafar Advocate, Moonis Elahi, Asad Umar, Dr Babar Awan, Fawad Chaudhry, Omer Sarfraz Cheema, Amir Kayani, Faisal Chaudhry Advocate, Muhammad Basharat Raja, Samsam Bukhari, Ghazanfar Abbas Cheena, Hussain Jehanian Gardezi, Hafiz Ammar Yasir and senior lawyers.

The meeting decided to prepare a legal petition immediately to file it in the SC on Friday. The meeting was informed that PTI’s five Members of the Punjab Assembly (MPAs) had gone for performing Hajj, and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had also not notified five members of the PTI on reserved seats yet despite the LHC order. It was agreed in the meeting that there were many constitutional and legal ambiguities in the LHC decision, and all legal points would be placed before the Supreme Court.