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Hamza Shehbaz’s tenure in peril after SC verdict

25 dissidents voted for PML-N leader to get him elected as Punjab chief minister

The political fate of Hamza Shehbaz as chief minister of Punjab is in danger after the decision of Supreme Court’s five-member bench on the presidential reference against lawmakers who violated the party policy.

The apex court gave its verdict that the votes of dissident lawmakers will not be counted. Hamza, who was the joint candidate of then opposition parties, got 197 votes from the Punjab Assembly and became the chief minister last month. He had to take the votes of PTI dissident MPAs, including the members hailing from the JKT and Aleem Khan groups. As many as 25 dissident MPAs of PTI cast their votes in favour of Hamza who was contesting against PTI’s nominee Ch Parvez Elahi. After the decision of the apex court, Hamza’s future is at stake because he will lose the majority if the votes of dissidents are not counted.

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Elahi, who was contesting against Hamza for the slot of CM, smartly used his speaker’s office and filed the reference against the dissident MPAs in the Election Commission of Pakistan for violation of Article 63.

The ECP will announce its verdict regarding the dissident MPAs today (Wednesday). The dissident MPAs include Abdul Aleem Khan, Raja Sageer Ahmad, Ghulam Rasool, Saeed Akbar Niwani, Ajmal Cheema, Faisal Hayat Japwana, Mehar Aslam Bharwana, Khalid Mehmood, Nazeer Chohan, Nauman Langrial, Ameen Zulqarnain, Muhammad Salman, Zawar Hussian, Nazeer Ahmed, Fida Hussain, Zahra Batool, Ayesha Nawaz, Sajida Yusuf, Haroon Imran Gill, Malik Asad Khokhar, Ijaz Masih, Muhammad Tahir, Uzma Kardar, Sibtain Raza and Mohsin Atta Khan Khosa. The references were filed on April 20 and the PTI also sought their disqualification, urging the ECP to decide their fate within a month. It was the last option left for Elahi. It is worth mentioning here that among these 25 MPAs, seven were elected as independent candidates who later joined the PTI and it is yet to be seen whether the defection clause is applicable to them or not.

The gravity of the situation can be gauged by the fact that Hamza was earlier scheduled to address a press conference at Model Town secretariat and the media was already invited there. He had to cancel the presser at the eleventh hour and instead convened the meeting of his legal team when the SC announced its decision.

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Later, the party’s deputy secretary general, Atta Tarar, talked to the media at Model Town. “Hamza Shehbaz is the Punjab CM and the ECP will announce its verdict regarding his case today,” Tarar said. He added that he didn’t consider those 25 MPAs as dissidents, because according to him they didn’t get any direction from their parliamentary party regarding the CM’s election. If the PTI issued any guideline to MPAs to cast vote for Elahi, then it is reality that the whole PTI didn’t vote for him, as they all abstained.

It means that all the MPAs of the PTI were dissidents, Tarar said.

Meanwhile, commenting on the situation, former minister for law and parliamentary affairs Raja Basharat said that Hamza had lost the majority in the House after SC’s decision and the game of his ‘fake’ mandate was over. “The decision of SC will have direct effect on the situation of Punjab… Hamza lacks a majority in the House after 25 votes are subtracted from his tally,” Raja said. He said the PML-N leader should “read the writing on the wall” and leave the office.

Similar views were shared by PTI leader Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, who also claimed that Hamza had lost the majority in Punjab and should leave.

Talking to media persons soon after the verdict was announced, the former federal information minister said, “Both Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz have lost their majority following [Tuesday’s] verdict.”

He went on to say that both the federal and the provincial governments stood dissolved in the aftermath of the key verdict.

According to Fawad, the SC had approved the PTI’s stance pertaining to its dissident lawmakers. “From where I see it,” he added, “Assemblies are going to be dissolved and the country is moving towards fresh elections.”

Talking about the number-game in Punjab Assembly, 186 votes are required to form the government in the House of 371. If 25 votes of dissidents are not counted in Hamza’s tally of 197, he will fall to 172. It is pertinent to mention here that no party will be in a position to reach the figure of 186 if these 25 dissidents are not counted. The PTI will be at the figure of 158 once these 25 dissidents are not counted. If 10 votes of PML-Q are included then the PTI-PML-Q coalition will be standing at 168. There are 4 dissident MPAs too within the PML-N, including Maulana Ghais-ud-Din, Faisal Niazi, Mian Jalil Sharaqpuri and Ashraf Ansari. If they are not counted, then the PML-N will have 162 MPAs and its tally will reach to 169 with the support of seven PPP lawmakers. So, four independents and one MPA of Rah-e-Haq party Maulana Muavia Azam will get the importance in this scenario. If the candidates fail to get the 186 votes in the first count, then a second round is held. In the second round, the winning candidate needs to get the more votes of the members present in the House at that time irrespective of the figure of 186.

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