Hamza Shahbaz 7
Hamza Shahbaz in a file photo. Image Credit: Online

Islamabad: Political uncertainty has returned to Punjab after a temporary lull of 20 days and the nascent government of Hamza Shehbaz Sharif is facing the biggest challenge to its existence after the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) Friday decision of de-seating 25 Members of Provincial Assembly (MPA) of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

They had voted for Hamza Shehbaz Sharif on April 16 in the chief minister’s election. Hamza Shehbaz Sharif took oath as 21st Chief Minister of Punjab on April 30 after facing strong resistance by the PTI-led alliance and former governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema.

In its 23-page order, the Election Commission on Friday said the MPs voted against the party line and were liable to be de-seated according to the law.

Their votes too will not be counted in accordance with the Supreme Court’s two-day earlier decision. Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had sent a reference to the ECP against the PTI lawmakers seeking their disqualification.

Hamza Shehbaz had got 197 votes against the 186 votes required in the house of 371.

Election Commission’s unanimous verdict has come as a blow to the PML-N that is already struggling to keep its majority intact in the National Assembly after the Supreme Court’s Tuesday verdict that the MPs going against their parties lines would not only lose their seats but their votes too would not be counted.

Number game

Punjab Assembly’s strength (371) after de-notification of 25 members is stands at 346 and after losing 25 MPAs, PTI is left with 158 MPAs while its allied party Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) has 10 seats taking the total number to 168.

However, according to the Punjab Assembly, since among the dissenting MPs five were on reserved seats, the PTI would get those seats back (though with new faces) and its actual count would be 163. The aggregate number of the PTI and the PML-Q is now 173.

On the other hand, the PML-N has 161 members in the assembly and with PPP’s seven, three independents and one Rah-i-Haq Party MPAs make it to combined make 172.

Under these circumstances, estranged friend of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s lone vote has assumed all the more importance.

However, according to Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb with the five dissident MPAs of the PML-N the ruling alliance will secure 177 votes.

The ECP had reserved its verdict on the reference on May 17, stating that it would be announced the next day (Wednesday) at noon. However, the announcement was later postponed.

SC bans transfers in high profile cases

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) has banned transfers, postings and removal of officials investigating high-profile cases pending in the courts of special judge (central) and the accountability courts against top government functionaries.

A larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandialalso ordered that no prosecution case would be withdrawn against the top government officials until the next date of hearing i.e. May 27.

Notices issued to NAB, FIA, others

The Supreme Court also issued notices to the interior secretary, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director general, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman/regional directors, prosecutors general and advocates general in the provinces and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and the head of prosecution branch in the FIA and NAB and sought written statements/replies.

The CJP noted that the process for removing names from the Exit Control List (ECL) should be transparent and sought the list of those whose names were removed from the list in the current government’s tenure.