Will Punjab govt survive if 26 PTI dissidents are deseated?

LAHORE   –    What will happen if 26 PTI dissidents are deseated by the Election Commission of Pakistan by month’s end?

This question needs answer since the PML-N has recently come to power with the support of these dissidents belonging to different groups in the PTI. In the emerging scenario, the Punjab Assembly may face a very unusual and complex situation never witnessed before.

Since the filing of disqualification references against 26 legislators out of which five were elected on the reserved seats, the PTI leaders have been claiming that Hamza Shehbaz Sharif will lose his majority in the House soon and Ch Parvez Elahi will be elected as the new chief minister. They have been asserting their claim on the plea that the PTI will get back five reserved seats immediately after the anticipated disqualification of the defected members, whereas, the PML-N government will collapse after losing the support of 26 members.

But, is this actually going to happen? Will the Election Commission accept PTI’s point of view on this matter?

The PTI’s assessment about gaining majority in the Punjab Assembly can be true in the normal circumstances. When a reserved seat falls vacant owing to resignation, disqualification or death of a member, the candidate next in line in the priority list of that party takes his or her place.

But, the likely scenario of the PTI also losing its 21 general seats along with five reserved seats makes it a different case altogether. Going into the details, out of the 26 PTI MPAs who voted for Hamza Shehbaz on April 16, three have been elected on reserved seats for women and two on the minority seats. The rest of 21 members who defected to the PML-N had returned to the Assembly on general seats.

It merits a mention here that reserved seats in the Assembly are allocated to the political parties in proportion to the number of general seats they win in the general elections. Immediately after the results are notified by the Election Commission, the political parties submit a list of their nominees for the reserved seats of women and minorities in order of priority and the Election Commission allocates the seats according to the set formula.

The Nation contacted spokesperson for Election Commission Ms Huda Ali Gohar to know the factual position in this regard. She was asked if the PTI will immediately get back its five minority seats after deseating of its 26 members. She replied in the negative. “In this case, since the PTI would also be losing a significant number of general seats (21) along with five reserved seats, it does not qualify to get back an equal number of reserved seats it would have lost as a result of deseating of its members elected on reserved seats. The Election Commission will reallocate the reserved seats to different parties after the by-elections on the 21 general seats,” she explained, adding the reallocation of reserved seats is done either after the general elections or the by-elections.

In the light of the Election Commission’s explanation on the matter, it is easy to determine the numerical strength of each political party in the Punjab Assembly after the likely deseating of 26 PTI legislators. However, the situation will change after the by-elections are held on 21 general seats within 60 days.

As of now, the total strength of the PTI in Punjab Assembly stands at 183 including 33 women and four minority seats. But after the deseating of its 26 MPAs, its total numerical strength in the Punjab Assembly will come down to 157 (125 general, 30 women and 2 minority seats). But, since four of the PML-N MPAs have already defected to the PTI, its actual strength will be settled at 161. Since the number of seats of the PML-Q (10 seats) will remain unchanged, the combined total strength of the two parties will come to 171.

The numerical strength of the present ruling alliance consisting of the PML-N, the PPP, the Rah-e-Haq party and two independent members will also be reduced after losing support of 26 dissidents of the PTI. Hamza Shehbaz had secured 197 votes in the chief minister’s election, but in the new situation, he would be left with the support of 171 members.

Interestingly, after the disqualification of 26 PTI MPAs, the respective strengths of the ruling alliance and the Opposition will equalise making it 171:171. This will be a situation where no party will be having simple majority (173 members out of total 345) in the House). At this stage, if the governor asks Hamza Shehbaz to take vote of confidence from the Assembly, the role of three independent members, Ch Nisar Ali Khan, Ahmad Ali Aulak and Bilal Asghar who have so far maintained neutrality in the whole affair will become important. Hamza will survive even if he manages to get support of one independent member.

And, if the governor does not ask for vote of confidence, a likely scenario in case the PML-N gets its own governor by that time, the Opposition may move a no-trust motion against him, and here again, the three independent members will hold the key. Also, the respective numerical strengths of the political parties will change after the by-elections are held within 60 days after the seats become vacant. And the battle for Punjab throne will start again.

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