ISLAMABAD: Hamza Shahbaz, son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on Friday managed to retain the coveted slot of Punjab chief minister, with the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party announcing it would challenge the election result in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Hours of drama followed the crucial election for the chief minister of the country’s most populous province on Friday, which was held on the directions of Supreme Court of Pakistan after 25 members of the opposition PTI were disqualified for voting for the rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate, Shahbaz, in violation of party directives.
In Friday's election, the opposition alliance, comprising former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI and the PML-Q parties, bagged 186 votes and the PML-N-led ruling coalition secured 179 votes in the provincial house of 371.
But in a shock move, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain sent a letter to Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari, in which he had directed PML-Q members to vote for Shahbaz, instead of his cousin brother and opposition's nominee, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.
The deputy speaker read out the letter and announced the ten votes cast by PML-Q members had been rejected in light of Hussain's declaration and the Supreme Court's ruling.
"I, hereby, disregard the votes of Pakistan Muslim League [Quaid] polled in favour of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi," Deputy Speaker Mazari announced.
The announcement came as a shock to the PML-Q and Khan's PTI party, which had defeated the ruling PML-N in Sunday’s by-elections and won 15 out of 20 Punjab Assembly seats. The other five members disqualified by the election commission had been elected on reserved seats for women and minorities.
Asad Umar, a senior PTI member, said his party would file a petition against the election result in apex court tonight.
"The entire nation has its sights on the Supreme Court whether the door of justice would open tonight or not," Umar said on Twitter.
PTI lawmaker Muhammad Basharat Raja strongly objected to the deputy speaker’s ruling, giving references of Article 63-A of the constitution. He said the parliamentary party leader was the only authorized person to issue directions to his party lawmakers about the vote.
Raja said PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had “no legal authority to issue directions,” but the deputy speaker rejected his argument and said “you may challenge it in the court.”
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.”
The PTI has announced moving the Supreme Court against the deputy speaker’s ruling, describing it as “unconstitutional” and hoping it would be overturned.
PTI Senator Ali Zafar said it was the mandate of the parliamentary party head and not the party chief to decide about the vote of lawmakers in the house. “The constitution is very clear and the decision of the parliamentary party is supreme with respect to vote in the house,” he told Arab News.
Barrister Ahmed Pansota said the lawmakers were bound to follow directions of the parliamentary party head, which was done in the PML-Q's case in Friday's election.
“The Supreme Court has already ruled on these issues and if this matter goes to the apex court for adjudication, I believe the PTI-backed candidate will be declared winner in the chief minister’s election,” he said.