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Hamza fined for not filing replies on pleas against his election

LHC also fines Punjab government Rs100,000, adjourns hearing until May 30

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday fined Hamza Shehbaz and the Punjab government Rs100,000 each for not submitting their responses on petitions filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) leaders challenging the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader’s election as the province’s chief minister.

Hearing the petitions, Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti observed that compliance with the court orders was obligatory for everyone in every situation.

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A law officer, who was representing the Punjab government, made a plea to seek time to submit replies but the court imposed a fine on Hamza Shehbaz and the provincial government.

The court again sought a reply from Hamza, Punjab chief secretary, Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Mohammad Mazari, Punjab governor’s principal secretary and the Punjab Assembly’s secretary.

Hamza Shehbaz was elected Punjab chief minister on April 16 during a session of the provincial assembly marred by violence. Hamza secured 197 votes, including those of five dissident PTI MPAs.

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The PTI and the PML-Q leaders, who did not initially challenge Hamza’s election as the chief minister, approached the LHC after the Supreme Court gave its opinion on a reference related to the interpretation of Article 63-A of the constitution and the subsequent de-seating of 25 dissident PTI MPAs by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The counsel for Hamza did appear before the court on the last hearing after skipping initial hearings but he and the Punjab government did not turn up again to submit replies on the petitions.

During the proceeding, the counsel for the PTI said that the province was facing a constitutional crisis as there was no cabinet.

At this, CJ Bhatti observed: “The proceedings cannot proceed without hearing the other parties [the respondents]. We will hear the case on a daily basis soon as the respondents submit their replies.”

The court adjourned further hearing till May 30.

In his petition, Parvez Elahi, who was also the PTI-PML-Q’s candidate for the CM Office, requested the court to declare that Hamza was not the chief minister since he had failed to secure the requisite number of votes in light of the SC’s interpretation stating the votes of defecting lawmakers would not be counted.

Therefore, the April 16 election, its results and the certificate issued by the Punjab Assembly deputy speaker to Hamza declaring his victory had “no legal effect”, the petition stated.

The petition requested the high court to declare “all consequential actions taken by [Hamza] in his purported capacity as the chief minister Punjab and all and any other communications made, orders passed and notifications issued etc., consequential upon the declaration of the afore-mentioned result and issuing the set certificate … to be null and void”.

The other petition was moved by MPAs Mohammad Sibtain Khan, Zainab Umair, Mian Mohammad Aslam Iqbal, Syed Abbas Ali Shah and Ahsan Saleem Baryar. Advocate Mushtaq Mohal, a local lawyer, had also filed a petition against Hamza’s election.

The PTI leaders had made Hamza, Punjab chief secretary, Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Mohammad Mazari, Punjab governor’s principal secretary and the Punjab Assembly’s secretary as respondents in their petition.

They said Deputy Speaker Mazari misused his powers and took “unlawful” support from police and provincial officials for conducting what they said were fraudulent elections.

They contended that it was a judicial overreach which led to the administration of Hamza’s oath while votes of 25 PTI dissident MPAs were also counted in the final tally. Governor Cheema had also refused to accept the election results, they said.

They submitted that as per investigation conducted by the Punjab governor, the respondent secretary of the provincial assembly had submitted a report containing various dimensions of the election wherein he had categorically informed the governor that the said election was unlawful. They said that the certificate issued by the respondent deputy speaker/acting speaker was without any lawful sanction and not having any legal authority.

The PTI lawmakers said Hamza soon after assuming office had launched a campaign of extreme vengeance against the petitioners.

They submitted that Hamza’s election was a violation of the constitution as well as the Rules of Business of the Punjab Assembly.

They added that Hamza had approached the LHC for holding the election and considered it as an urgent matter because he was enjoying the support of 25 PTI dissidents. They said the act of the dissidents was a violation of Article 63 of the constitution.

They also mentioned the Supreme Court’s interpretation of Article 63-A regarding the disqualification of lawmakers over defection in which the top court had opined that the vote of the dissidents would not be counted.

They said the opinion of the top court had made it clear that the chief minister’s election was unlawful.

The election should be declared unlawful and struck down on this ground alone and keeping in view the scope and intent behind Article 63 of the constitution, they maintained.

They also claimed that the election had lost its sanctity because the assembly floor was occupied like a “beehive by private unwanted persons, including civilians, ghundas (thugs), guests, persons of various agencies and local police”.

In addition, voters had been intimidated and forced to cast their votes in Hamza’s favour, they stated.

The petitioners also stated that members who were going to vote for PTI-PML-Q’s candidate Chaudhry Parvez Elahi were “pushed out” from the gallery and therefore, could not participate in the election.

The petitioners requested the LHC to declare Hamza’s election void ab initio (illegal) “in the interest of justice and fair play”.

It also requested the court to declare the office of the chief minister vacant and stop Hamza from working and portraying himself as the chief executive.

Meanwhile, PTI MPAs Muhammad Rizwan and Shahid Nawaz sent a letter, through Advocate Azhar Siddique, to the Punjab chief secretary and asked him to withdraw the notification issued for the appointment of Hamza as the Punjab chief minister.

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