ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday declared the oath of Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz as illegal and ordered recounting of votes for the election of Punjab’s chief minister held on April 16, directing that the votes of 25 dissident PTI MPAs be excluded from the recounting process.
A five-member larger 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 eight-page verdict with a 4-1 majority.
Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi dissented with his fellow judges.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) accepting the PTI’s intra-court appeals declared the oath of Hamza Shehbaz as null and void.
The court in its eight-page written verdict ordered the presiding officer to recount the votes polled during the election of chief minister by excluding the 25 votes of PTI rebel MPAs who voted for Hamza Shehbaz on April 16 last.
In the short order issued after the hearing on Thursday, the LHC instructed that votes in the election held on April 16 be recounted after excluding 25 votes of the defecting PTI lawmakers. If the required majority for Hamza — which is 186 votes in the 371-member strong house — to stay the CM is not secured, the election will be held again under Article 130(4), unless another candidate has majority votes.
According to Article 130(4), in the second round of voting, a member will not require 186 votes but needs a simple majority of those “present and voting” to be elected the chief minister.
The court said that Hamza Shehbaz will cease to be the chief minister if he loses the required majority after the exclusion of 25 votes by the presiding officer.
For the recounting of votes and re-election, if required, a Punjab Assembly (PA) session will be held on July 1, 2022 (tomorrow) at 4pm. The LHC stressed that the session cannot be adjourned until the election process was completed and the presiding officer “intimated the result of the elected chief minister to the governor”.
The governor shall preform his duty, under Article 130(5), of administering oath without any hesitation, at any time before 11am very next day, it added.
The court said the PTI petitions are accepted as far as the recounting of votes were concerned and remained parts are rejected. The court also said that the detailed verdict of the case will be issued later.
Hamza Shehbaz was elected as the Punjab CM on April 16 during a provincial assembly session that was marred by violence. He received a total of 197 votes — 11 more than the required 186 — including from 25 PTI defecting MPAs that were crucial for his victory.
On May 20, those lawmakers were deseated by the ECP for defecting. Since then, a series of petitions have challenged Hamza’s election as the chief minister. All of them were, however, clubbed together after the court observed that they were identical.
The court also made it clear that any obstruction in the recounting or election process would be deemed a ‘contempt of court’.
Furthermore, it said it could not order re-election because that would be against Supreme Court’s interpretation of articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. “The court cannot act as a presiding officer,” the bench declared.
Besides that, the verdict said that all decisions taken by Hamza Shehbaz and his cabinet would enjoy the legal cover.
In his petition, Speaker Pervaiz Elahi, who was also the PTI-PML-Q’s candidate for the CM slot, requested the court to declare that Hamza was not the chief minister since he had failed to secure the requisite number of votes in light of the Supreme Court’s interpretation stating the votes of defecting lawmakers would not be counted.
Therefore, the April 16 election, its results and the certificate issued by the Punjab Assembly deputy speaker to Hamza declaring his victory had “no legal effect”, the petition stated.
The petition requested the high court to declare “all consequential actions taken by [Hamza] in his purported capacity as the chief minister Punjab and all and any other communications made, orders passed and notifications issued etc., consequential upon the declaration of the afore-mentioned result and issuing the set certificate … to be null and void”.
Separately, PTI’s petition, which was filed by MPAs Mohammad Sibtain Khan, Zainab Umair, Mian Mohammad Aslam Iqbal, Syed Abbas Ali Shah and Ahsan Saleem Baryar, stated that the session held for conducting the election witnessed “immense chaos and most unfortunate events”.
Deputy Speaker Mazari took “unlawful” aid from the police and provincial officials for holding a “sham and fraudulent” election, following which he communicated that Hamza had won, the petition said.
It noted that votes of 25 dissident PTI MPAs were also counted in the final tally for Hamza. While the then governor Umar Cheema had refused to accept the election results, Hamza was administered the oath due to “judicial overreach”, it contended.