Zardari, Shujaat save Hamza’s government

PTI, PML-Q move SC against Dost Mazari’s contentious ruling

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President Hamza Shehbaz managed to retain his rule over Punjab, as a letter written by Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) Presidents Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to his party’s lawmakers proved to be a game changer.

A total of 186 members of the provincial assembly (MPAs) belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the PML-Q were present in the Punjab Assembly, while the PML-N and its allies had a collective figure of 179. Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari, who was presiding over the session, gave a ruling that 10 votes of the PML-Q could not be counted in the final tally after receiving a letter from the PML-Q chief. After subtracting the votes of 10 MPAs of the PML-Q, the PTI got 176 votes, while the PML-N secured 179 votes.

Hamza Shehbaz got 166 votes from the PML-N, seven from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), one from Rah-e-Haq Party, and five from independent lawmakers.

The much-awaited session of the Punjab Assembly started after a delay of almost more than three hours from its scheduled time, with Deputy Speaker Mazari in the chair. He entered the House with a heavy contingency of Anti-Riot Force (ARF) personnel, keeping in view the last episode when Mazari was brutally attacked by PTI lawmakers. The ARF personnel kept standing behind Mazari throughout the proceedings, while a large number of police officials also stood on high alert outside the House.

At the outset of the session, PML-N chief whip Khalil Tahir Sandhu raised an objection over the oath of two newly elected MPAs of the PTI – Zain Qureshi and Shabbir Gujjar. Sandhu said that Zain Qureshi was still a sitting member of the National Assembly (MNA), while Shabbir Gujjar’s case was pending in the court. However, Mazari rejected his objection when Deputy Opposition Leader Raja Basharat said that the people had elected them and it was their right to cast the vote in the chief minister’s election. Mazari then went for the agenda item of the day: ‘Second poll for election of chief minister in terms of the first proviso of Article 130 (4) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.

The PML-N lawmakers went into the Ayes Lobby, while the PTI and PML-Q MPAs cast their votes in the Noes Lobby. By that time, the news of Ch Shujaat’s letter to the PML-Q MPAs went viral in the Press Gallery. Ch Parvez Elahi was seen discussing the situation with Raja Basharat, his close aide and former law minister, when it was clear that Shujaat had issued the letter to his MPAs. Later, Elahi and all the MPAs of the PML-Q went to the Noes Lobby to cast their vote.

When Mazari took the chair again to announce the result, he started by giving the reference of Ch Shujaat Hussain’s letter. The House was resonated with the slogans of ‘Sher Sher Sher’ when Mazari just mentioned Shujaat’s name. The PML-N’s Malik Ahmad Khan directed his MPAs not to chant slogans and listen to the chair attentively. Mazari read the complete letter of Shujaat, in which he clearly directed his 10 MPAs, including Parvez Elahi, to give their vote to Hamza. “I have received this letter of Ch Shujaat and I also talked to him for confirmation three times,” Mazari said. As per the ruling of the Supreme Court, the votes of the PML-Q’s 10 MPAs cannot be counted for violating the directions issued by the party president, he said.

At this point, Raja Basharat stood on his seat and said, “You cannot do this as the parliamentary leader of the PML-Q has already instructed all 10 MPAs to vote for Elahi.” He gave the reference of a letter written by PML-Q parliamentary leader Sajid Khan Bhatti, in which he had directed his MPAs to vote for Elahi. Raja Basharat cited Article 63 1(b) of the Constitution and said that the MPAs would follow the guidelines given by the parliamentary leader.

Mazari was in no mood to accept the viewpoint of Basharat, as he kept giving reference of the Supreme Court ruling in which the apex court had declared that lawmakers would follow the directives of their party head. Later, he declared Hamza the winner of the contest by three votes. Mazari prorogued the session indefinitely after completing the agenda.

The House was resonated with the slogans of ‘Sher Sher’ (lion, lion) and ‘Aik Zardari sb pe bhari’ (One Zardari overpowers all). Some MPAs of the PML-N were also chanting slogans in favor of Shujaat Hussain, whose letter proved to be a game changer. Later, the PTI and the PML-Q approached the Supreme Court Lahore Registry to challenge the vote count and Mazari’s decision to declare Hamza the Punjab chief minister. All 186 lawmakers of both the parties had reached the Supreme Court Lahore Registry to file their petition.

The lawyers of both the parties prepared the petitions soon after ruling, and wanted the Supreme Court to immediately take up the matter, hoping that the doors of the top court would be opened for them at night.

The latest reports suggested that Supreme Court Lahore Deputy Registrar Ejaz Goraya would receive the petition from the parties.