Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial (CJP) on Tuesday observed that the loyalty of members was a basic right of political parties.
"It is the fundamental right of political parties that its members remain loyal to it," the CJP said while hearing petitions filed by dissident PTI members from the Punjab Assembly, who have challenged the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP's) decision to disqualify them for defection.
The ECP had disqualified 25 dissident MPAs of the PTI on May 20 on the grounds that they had voted for PML-N's Hamza Shehbaz in the election for Punjab chief minister against the party line and defected.
The decision had come days after the Supreme Court's (SC's) decision on a presidential reference seeking its interpretation of Article 63-A, related to the disqualification of lawmakers over defection.
In its interpretation, the apex court had said that votes cast against party direction "cannot be counted and must be disregarded, and this is so regardless of whether the party head, subsequent to such vote, proceeds to take, or refrains from taking, action that would result in a declaration of defection".
Following these developments, multiple disqualified MPAs had moved the SC against the ECP's decision. Their pleas were clubbed together and taken up today by a three-member bench comprising CJP Bandial, Justice Aminuddin Khan and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar.
At the outset of the hearing, a lawyer representing the petitioners argued that the PTI had not issued any instructions regarding the Punjab chief minister's election.
He added that Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi, who was the joint candidate of the PTI and PML-Q for the slot, had boycotted the session for the election.
Justice Mazhar, however, observed that the petitioners had voted for the PML-N despite being members of the PTI.
CJP Bandial also questioned why had they participated in the voting when their party had boycotted the election session.
He noted that the SC had already declared defection a "cancer" in its interpretation of Article 63-A, adding that "defection was no small matter".
"It's about a person's conscience," he remarked.
During the hearing, PTI dissident MPA Uzma Kardar, who was elected on a reserved seat for women, came to the rostrum and took the stance that the PTI had ousted her from the party and hence, "my case is different from that of defection".
At this, the CJP observed that reserved seats in an assembly were allocated to political parties according to their proportional representation in the house.
"It would have to be seen that when the PTI had ousted you from the party, why did you remain an [assembly] member," he added.
Kardar said in reply that she had worked hard for the PTI, putting in her blood and sweat, and "I still am a member of the party".
She claimed that she had been ousted due "internal conspiracies" within the PTI. "Yet I remained a parliamentarian.
"Article 63-A has given me protection [in the sense] that defection has not been proved against me," she said.
At that, Justice Mazhar asked whether the ECP did not know that she had been ousted from the party.
All documents were present before the ECP, Kardar replied.
The CJP then said the SC had already made it clear that the votes of dissident lawmakers would not be counted.
"It is the fundamental right of political parties that its members remain loyal to it," the CJP said.
In this connection, he also gave the reference of a no-confidence vote faced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
"Do you know where was Boris Johnson defeated? No motion was submitted against him in parliament. No-confidence motion against Boris Johson was presented within his party," he said while addressing Kardar.
For her part, Kardar claimed that nobody in the PTI had the courage to speak against the party chief.
Without naming anyone from the party, she added: "For a year they kept on saying that support [former Punjab chief minister Usman] Buzdar and things did not work out, they went the other way."
Following Kardar's statements, the court directed the petitioners to prepare on the point of voting for the PML-N against their party's line and adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.