Constitutional crises refuse to go away from Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s most politically relevant province. After weeks of wrangling over the voting and later oath of the chief minister, now the removal of the Punjab governor has become a pressing issue for the federal government. (Former) Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema was removed by the federal government in a notification issued late on Monday by the Cabinet Division. The development was met with resistance by the governor as well as the president. Earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif moved a summary twice to President Arif Alvi advising the removal of the Punjab governor. The president, however, taking the cover of Article 101(3), which says the governor shall hold the office “during the pleasure” of the president (for as long as the president pleases)” refused to oblige the prime minister’s advice. Constitution experts are divided on the issue. A majority of them believe that in the parliamentary democracy, the prime minister, being the chief executive of the country, holds power to appoint and remove a governor, which is also a constitutional post. They say the president is just a figurehead, who is bound to follow every advice of the prime minister. The other camp argues that the constitution is clear on the matters relating to the appointment and removal of the governor. They say the appointment of the governor has been linked to the summary of the prime minister, but their removal is totally at the discretion of the president. They cite Article 101(3) read with Article 48(2) that “the president shall act in his discretion in respect of any matter in respect of which he is empowered by the Constitution to do so”.
On Tuesday, the Punjab government stopped Omar Sarfraz Cheema from entering the Governor House and barricaded the building. Both sides – the president plus the governor and federal and Punjab governments – seem to have adopted a collision course without much regard to consequences. The president’s official Twitter handle posted on Monday: “The President has conveyed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan that Governor Punjab cannot be removed without his approval.” The Punjab government, on the other side, has occupied the Governor House. Matters would get worse in the coming days, as the president may sit on the summary seeking the appointment of a new governor. Meanwhile, Speaker of the Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Parvez Elahi has been notified as the acting governor. Mr Chaudhry has already challenged the election and oath of the chief minister, Hamza Shehbaz. A better way for both sides is to seek the court intervention.