EC rejects plea to drop case against 20 AAP legislators

MLAs could face disqualification as hearings will continue

NEWDELHI: The Election Commission has said it will move forward on a petition seeking the disqualification of a group of Aam Aadmi Party legislators for allegedly holding an office of profit.

The panel rejected late on Friday the lawmakers’ plea that the private petition against them be dropped, clearing the decks for their possible removal from the Delhi assembly. A final decision is expected in August on whether the legislators violated rules by holding the posts of parliamentary secretaries.

Although an adverse ruling will pose no threat to the Arvind Kejriwal government, such a setback will only further demoralise the party after its string of election losses, including the city civic polls in April.

Should the MLAs be disqualified and by-elections called, it will again test the party’s grip on the national capital. A poor showing will also weaken Kejriwal’s hold over the Delhi assembly where he now has 65 members in a house of 70.

The poll panel said in its order the AAP MLAs “did hold de facto the office of parliamentary secretaries”. The AAP said it respects the ruling and hinted that the party might challenge it in court. A parliamentary secretary assists a minister, and the office comes with perks as well as a measure of political influence. Often MLAs who can’t be accommodated in the government are appointed to the post.

The controversy dates back to the weeks after the party won a majority in the Delhi assembly elections and appointed 21 lawmakers as parliament secretaries in March, 2015.

As protests over the appointments grew, the Kejriwal government sought to shield the MLAs by excluding the post of parliamentary secretary from the ambit of office of profit laws. But President Pranab Mukherjee refused to approve it, and referred a private petition in the matter to the Election Commission.

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