The most crucial session of the Punjab Assembly to elect the province’s chief minister is scheduled for 11:30 am today (Saturday).
Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari will chair the session following the restoration of his power by the Lahore High Court (LHC).
Backed by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) leader and PA Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi will contest against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Hamza Shahbaz.
To win, a candidate would need at least 186 votes in the 371-member House. The PTI has 183 lawmakers, PML-Q 10, PML-N 165, and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seven, while five are independent and one belongs to the Rah-e-Haq party.
Hamza claims he has the support of 202 MPAs in the Punjab Assembly, 16 more than the required strength to get elected. Serving as the opposition leader in the House, Hamza has already won the support of 199 MPAs during a mock session at a local hotel in Lahore when the lawmakers were denied entry to the Punjab Assembly.
A weeks-long political and constitutional battle had been witnessed between political parties to win the crown of Punjab. The ruling PTI’s chief minister, Usman Buzdar, has already resigned following the direction of party head Imran Khan, the former prime minister who was ousted on April 10 after the success of the joint opposition’s no-confidence motion against him.
Imran Khan has backed the PML-Q candidate after striking a deal with the ally. However, the party – like in the Centre – also faces dissidents in form of Tareen, Aleem Khan and Asad Khokhar groups. The three groups jointly make two dozen MPAs. The PTI has already moved a reference to the speaker for disqualification of the dissidents under Article 63-A of the Constitution. Party spokesperson Fayazul Hassan Chohan said the reference would be moved to the Election Commission of Pakistan for the dissidents’ disqualification for life in case they voted against the party policy.
Their vote for the PML-N could elect Hamza as the chief minister of Punjab. Elahi could emerge successful in case they decide not to violate the party lines. There were reports that the Punjab Assembly speaker has already suspended the membership of 10 MPAs of the PML-N for damaging the property and furniture of the House during the past session. However, the reports were not confirmed by the assembly staff and no notification was issued in this regard. Since the deputy speaker is chairing the session, the likelihood of implementation of the suspension clause is minimum. Independent observers from different organisations will observe the voting session.
It may be mentioned here that the PML-Q could not get the desired relief in the fight against its political opponents, as the Lahore High Court disposed of all appeals challenging the verdict of the single bench, with directions to Dost Muhammad Mazarti to preside over the House proceeding for the election of the Punjab chief minister today.
An LHC division bench comprising Justice Shujaat Ali Khan and Justice Jawad Hassan announced the verdict after hearing lengthy arguments from both sides. “We have no hesitation to hold that Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari, Deputy Speaker, Provincial Assembly of Punjab, has the right to preside over the session of the House scheduled to be held on 16.04.2022, irrespective of any observation by the learned judge in chambers in the impugned order/judgment,” held the two-member bench, while disposing of all three appeals challenging the verdict of the single bench in which the powers of Mazari were restored and he was allowed to preside over the proceedings of the House.
The division bench directed the deputy speaker to abide by his oath and ensure the conduct of elections for the portfolio of the chief minister in a fair, transparent and impartial manner, strictly under the Constitution and the Rules, 1997, specifically Second Schedule, without being influenced by any proceedings before the court.
The court also directed Mazari to facilitate the national/international observers, media persons, representatives of PILDAT, FAFEN and other national/international organisations during the election.
Senator Barrister Ali Zafar, Imtiaz Rasheed Siddiqui, Advocate Azhar Siddique and Safdar Shaheen Pirzada appeared as the counsels for the appellants, Parvez Elahi and Sibtain Khan. From the respondents’ sides, Advocate General of Punjab Ahmed Awais, Senator Advocate Azam Nazir Tarar and many other lawyers appeared before the court.
The court held that when confronted with the query as to whether the Supreme Court, while dealing with the matter relating to the National Assembly of Pakistan, broke the firewall contained under Article 69 of the Constitution, the learned counsel answered in negative.
During the proceedings, all the lawyers representing the appellants argued that Dost Mazari had lost his impartiality and he was not able to conduct the House proceedings. Mazari clarified his position that his office was sealed and his powers were withdrawn, and no other way was left for him except to approach the court. Advocate Tarar opposed their arguments and said that if the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, against whom a no-trust motion was moved, could preside over the House then why not the deputy speaker of the provincial assembly.
Punjab Police Inspector General Rao Sardar Ali and Chief Secretary Kamran Ali Afzal assured the court that all possible measures would be taken for smooth conduct of the election of the Punjab chief minister, whereas the internal security is to be catered to by the assembly secretary in coordination with the security staff. Kamran Ali also told the court that all the departments had already been directed to facilitate the election.
On the other hand, the Punjab Home Department has imposed Section 144 around the assembly building for two days. According to a notification, there will be a ban on all types of gatherings within 1 kilometre of the building, and only members of the provincial assembly, political leaders, personnel of law enforcement agencies and journalists will be allowed to enter the assembly premises.