ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court on Thursday ordered the recounting of votes for the election of the Punjab chief minister held in April and won by Hamza Shahbaz, instructing that the votes of 25 dissident lawmakers who had defected from ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party and voted for Shahbaz be excluded from the counting process.
Shahbaz, who is the son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, was elected chief minister of Pakistan’s largest and most populous Punjab province on April 16. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its allies boycotted the election and challenged the voting procedure in the court.
On May 20, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) de-seated 25 dissident PTI legislators who had voted for then opposition candidate Shahbaz in the Punjab CM election.
The top post in Punjab had fallen vacant after the resignation of former Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, a close Khan aide, in early April.
“The Presiding Officer (Deputy Speaker) of the election held on 16th April 2022 is, therefore, directed to recount votes after excluding 25 votes of the defecting members,” the court order said, saying voting should take place tomorrow, Friday.
If the required majority for Shahbaz, which is 186 votes in the 371-member strong house, to stay the CM is not secured, the election would be held again under Article 130(4), unless another candidate had majority votes, the court said.
According to Article 130(4), in the second round of voting, a member would not require 186 votes but simply needed a majority of those “present and voting” to be elected the chief minister.
The court also said that Hamza Shahbaz would cease to be the chief minister if he lost the required majority after the exclusion of the 25 dissident votes by the presiding officer.
Following the de-seating of the 25 dissident lawmakers last month, Shahbaz, who had won the CM election with their help, had lost his majority in the Punjab Assembly, raising questions about the status of his government.
Shahbaz, a member of the now ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, got 197 votes in the chief minister’s election but was left with the support of 172 members in the house after the disqualification of the 25 MPs.
According to Article 63-A of the constitution, a parliamentarian can be disqualified on grounds of defection if he or she “votes or abstains from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which he belongs, in relation to election of the prime minister or chief minister; or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence; or a money bill or a Constitution (amendment) bill.”
In a unanimous decision in May, ECP members said the PTI dissidents were being de-seated for defecting from the party under Article 63-A of the constitution. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in its interpretation of Article 63-A, has said votes cast against the party direction “cannot be counted and must be disregarded.”
Former Punjab Assembly speaker Pervaiz Elahi, Khan’s candidate for CM, had filed a reference with the ECP against the dissident PTI lawmakers, requesting the electoral body to disqualify them for violating party discipline and deviating from its policy.