The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday sought replies from concerned quarters, including the federal government, on a plea challenging the appointment of Raja Riaz as the opposition leader in the National Assembly (NA).
It is pertinent to note that Raja Riaz was a dissident of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and was appointed as the NA opposition leader after 125 PTI lawmakers had resigned following the no-confidence motion against former premier and party chief Imran Khan in April.
During the hearing today, the petitioner’s counsel Advocate Azhar Siddique asked the court how Riaz could be appointed as the opposition leader without the acceptance of the resignations of PTI lawmakers.
He noted that the appointments of the chief election commissioner, other members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Accountability Bureau chairman are made with the consent of the opposition leader.
Advocate Siddique questioned how fair the aforesaid appointments would be when on one hand, Raja Riaz is the opposition leader and on the other hand, he wishes to contest the general election on the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s platform.
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Subsequently, Justice Abid Hussain Chattha sought replies from the federal government and legal assistance from the attorney general and advocate general of Punjab on the plea.
In August, the petition was filed by Munir Ahmed through Advocate Azhar Siddique contending that the appointment of Raja Riaz as opposition leader is "a sheer violation of Rule 39, 43 and other clauses of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, 2007 (the Rules)".
He argued that all resignations recently presented in the National Assembly were not accepted and the ECP has not de-notified the former ruling party's lawmakers.
In the petition, Siddique referred to a similar case and said that the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had recently held in a case that “it is an admitted position that Dr Shireen Mazari continues to enjoy the status of a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament). She has not been de-notified by the ECP nor has the worthy NA speaker accepted her resignation in accordance with the principles and law highlighted by a division bench of that court."
He contended that the aforementioned order clearly states that the resignations have not been accepted by the NA speaker nor has the electoral watchdog de-notified the said members.
Siddique questioned, "if the said practice has not been completed in accordance with procedure, how was Raja Riaz appointed as the opposition leader without the consultation of the PTI lawmakers?"
He argued that as per details, Riaz had submitted an application signed by 16 dissident PTI lawmakers in the NA secretariat for nominating him as the opposition leader.
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The statement said that the NA speaker, in pursuance of Rule 39 of the Rules, declared Raja Riaz as the leader of the opposition and a notification to this effect was issued by the NA secretariat.
The respondent speaker said it was announced in the House that any opposition lawmakers wishing to become the leader of the opposition could show their strength and submit the relevant MNAs’ signatures to his office.
He added that the opposition MNAs interested in becoming the opposition leader were given time till 3pm to submit their papers with the signatures of supporting lawmakers.
The respondent speaker said the signatures were verified by 4pm, adding that Ghous Bux Khan Mahar of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Raja Riaz and Hussain Elahi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid had submitted their nomination papers for the post.
Elahi withdrew in favour of Mahar. However, despite getting his support, the GDA lawmaker could only gather support from six MNAs. Therefore, Raja Riaz was nominated as the leader of the opposition.
The petitioner's counsel stated in his petition that the aforementioned action of appointing the opposition leader is "a sham process" and is "in contravention of Rule 39 of the Rules which clearly provides the procedure for the declaration of the opposition leader".
Siddique questioned how, when the resignations of PTI NA members were not accepted, the NA speaker could overlook their right to vote for the leader of the opposition.
He requested the court to "set aside the impugned notification" through which Raja Riaz was appointed as the opposition leader. It was further requested that the operation of the notification be suspended till the final decision of this writ petition.