The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday ordered the President to recount the votes for the election of Punjab’s chief minister from April 16 after withdrawing the votes cast by 25 dissident PTI MPs, who have since been disqualified for voting against party instructions.
A five-member bench comprising Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, Justice Shahid Jamil Khan, Justice Shehram Sarwar Chaudhry, Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh announced the verdict by a 4-1 majority. In his short order, the largest bench said that if none of the candidates received the 186 votes required for a majority in the 371-member House after the recount, the election would proceed to a second round under Rule 130 (4 ), who simply needs a majority of those “present and voting” for a candidate to be elected chief minister.
The majority decision underlined that incumbent chief minister Hamza Shehbaz would remain in office until the recount, adding that he would only cease to be chief minister if he lost the election. He also pointed out that all functions performed and powers exercised by Hamza would be “protected by the de facto doctrine” in accordance with the law.
The court set out the recount and potential run-off process to avoid confusion, noting that a session of the Punjab Assembly would be held on July 1 (tomorrow) at 4 p.m. This session, the LHC decided, could not be extended until the election process was completed and the president “intimated the outcome of the elected chief minister to the governor”.
At the end of the election, read the judgment, the government will perform its duty under Article 130 (5) and administer the oath without any hesitation at any time before 11 a.m. the next day July 2 (Saturday) . The court also underlined that “any attempt to cause disorder from anywhere will be considered a contempt of court and will be prosecuted accordingly by this extended formation on formal information from any person”.
The sole dissenting judge, Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi, said that while he agreed with the majority’s decision not to declare the original election illegal or the Assembly Speaker’s swearing-in of Hamza National, he did not believe a recount was necessary, as the votes of the 25 PTI dissidents had already been “admitted”.
After excluding the 25 votes, he writes, Hamza got 172 votes in the original election. “Therefore, he is not an elected member within the meaning of Article 130, paragraph 4, of the Constitution and being a stranger to the post of Chief Minister, he cannot be authorized to occupy this post,” he said. he said, adding that the procedure established by the majority decision would give a “political advantage” to the sponsor over the other contender. “This, the office of an unelected member cannot be protected, which even seems contrary to the mandate of Article 133 of the Constitution,” he said, adding that as a result, Usman Buzdar should be reinstated in the Prime Minister’s Office as it was before the election. However, he said, he agreed with the majority judgment that any action taken by Hamza as chief minister would be considered valid under the de facto doctrine.
Hamza was elected chief minister of Punjab on April 16 in a session of the provincial assembly marred by violence. He received 197 votes, including 25 from the dissident PTI AMPs, which were overthrown by the ECP a month later for voting against the party’s instructions.
Declaring the vote “illegal”, Pervaiz Elahi of the PMLQ – which is contesting the chief minister seat against Hamza – and the PTI had filed petitions calling for the election to be annulled, claiming that Hamza had not obtained the number of votes required in light of a Supreme Court ruling that the votes of lawmakers who defected could not be counted.
Elahi’s petition also asked the LHC to declare “all subsequent actions taken by [Hamza] in his purported capacity as Chief Minister of Punjab and all other communications made, orders passed and notifications issued, etc., consequent upon the declaration of the aforesaid result and issuance of the established certificate…shall be null and void.