LHC orders recounting for Punjab CM election

Four judges out of five on bench headed by Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan accept pleas of PTI and PML-Q

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday ordered recounting of votes for April 16’s Punjab chief minister election, excluding the votes of 25 Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf dissidents.

A five-member larger bench of the LHC led by Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan and comprising Justice Shahid Jamil, Justice Shehram Sarwar, Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh announced the verdict on appeals of PTI and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leaders.

The four judges – Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, Justice Shahid Jamil, Justice Shehram Sarwar, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh – accepted the pleas, while Justice Sethi wrote a dissenting note.

After the verdict, the LHC disposed of the pleas.

On April 16, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Hamza Shehbaz was elected as Punjab chief minister during a session of the provincial assembly that witnessed rumpus and intervention of police. Hamza got a total of 197 votes – 11 more than the required 186 – including from 25 dissident PTI MPAs. The ECP, however, de-seated the PTI dissidents who cast their votes.

The bench on Tuesday had hinted at holding fresh polls for the post of the Punjab chief minister.

During the proceedings on Wednesday, the bench had made observations about the opinion of the top court on Article 63-A.

The bench had observed that the president and the governor could not prefer to be silent over any constitutional matter as they were responsible to protect the constitution. The bench also observed that there had been two options at the moment.

“The previous presiding officer will have to look into the matter again if we say that the opinion of the SC has retrospective effect on the voting,” the bench remarked.

The counsel representing the PTI had contended that this would make the court responsible for issuance of directions for the next polls. But the court did not agree with the point, observing that the presiding officer would look into the matter.

Barrister Ali Zafar had told the bench that there were two separate petitions; one was about the election and the other was regarding the oath.

Meanwhile, the court had asked the counsel of Punjab Chief Minister Hamza to argue the case.

After hearing both sides, the bench had put off further hearing till Thursday (today).

Sibtain Khan and 17 other PTI leaders had filed an Intra-court appeal in the LHC against the verdict of its single bench directing NA speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to administer oath to Punjab CM-elect, who is now the chief minister.

The PTI leaders had deemed the decision beyond the facts and called it contradictory to the constitution.

LHC Justice Jawad Hassan, in his ruling, had directed the speaker to administer an oath to Hamza Shehbaz Sharif and had fixed the date and time for the oath ceremony to end the crisis in Punjab. The province had been functioning without a cabinet since the resignation of former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar last month.

The appellants had said “the high court’s single bench in the absence of any pleadings by any single party to be arrayed as respondents in the writ petition, on the very first day, reserved judgement.”

They had argued that such conduct was unprecedented and a clear violation of the constitution and the proceedings had caused turmoil and created havoc. They had pointed out that a third petition was filed for the same cause which had already been decided in two separate petitions.

They had argued that the judicial proceedings of the single bench also contained “rude remarks against constitutional officers such as the Governor of Punjab and the President of Pakistan in the reserved judgment”.

They had contended that the haste and the procedure showed absence of justice, pleading with the court that a larger bench not less than seven judges should hear this matter.

They had further pleaded with the court that the impugned order passed by the single bench had ignored the facts and it had also been contradictory to various articles of the constitution and same be declared null and void.

“This judgment is against Articles 48, 87, 133, 187, 190, 204, 248 and 255 of the Constitution,” the PTI’s counsel had argued.

The PTI had also challenged two separate verdicts of a single bench comprising Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti on two different petitions filed by Hamza Shehbaz.

Though the PTI and PML-Q have won the legal battle, but the PML-N government can challenge the verdict before the Supreme Court.

If Hamza Shehbaz wins the election after recounting, then his position would be stronger as compared to the pre-judgment situation.

Fida Hussnain is a correspondent covering judiciary, politics, business and health issues. He is also a feature writer and researcher with major work on freedom of press in Pakistan. He tweets @fidahassanain and can be reached at fidahassanain@gmail.com.


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