The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that re-election for the Punjab chief minister’s slot will be held on July 22 after the rival parties — PML-N, PML-Q and PTI — reached consensus on the matter.
A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, issued the verbal order on PTI’s plea challenging the Lahore High Court (LHC) order.
However, both Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi appeared satisfied with the decision.
CM Hamza said he “accepts the decision of the Supreme Court” while Speaker Elahi termed it “victory of democracy”.
The CM Hamza said he had numerical majority in the house and was ready for recount or the second poll. Speaker Elahi said Hamza had no majority in the house, adding that their members were out of the country that was why Hamza wanted to take advantage of the situation.
Earlier, the top court had summoned Punjab CM Hamza and Speaker Elahi in person to find out whether the parties were in a position to reach to a consensus.
As the proceedings commenced at noon, Hamza and Elahi reached at the Supreme Court Lahore Registry and attended the proceedings through video link.
Initially, there was a deadlock between Elahi and Hamza over whether or not the CM would remain in the saddle till the recounting of the votes if sufficient time was granted as per the request of the PTI and the PML-Q.
Elahi’s point of view was that there should be sufficient time to hold the election for the CM’s slot, adding that some of their members were performing Hajj while others were out of the country. “But Hamza will not continue working as the CM,” he maintained.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan asked Elahi who would handle the matters of the province if time was granted and Hamza was not the CM.
Justice Ahsan also remarked how was it possible that July 17 – the date of by-elections for 20 vacant seats of the provincial assembly – could be waited for by removing a chief minister.
“If the parties don’t reach a consensus, the court will see the matter in light of the Constitution,” Justice Ahsan added.
CJP Bandial observed that the court was told that Elahi had no objection over Hamza if he remained as the chief minister.
Elahi replied that he could trust Hamza in the ongoing situation.
Later, Elahi said if Hamza wanted to stay as the CM till July 17, then he would have to determine his powers.
“He will not register forged cases or harass our MPAs and no transfers and postings will take place,” he added.
To this, PTI counsel Babar Awan requested the court to pass orders for conducting free and fair election as well as notifying the members on reserved seats in the provincial assembly.
However, he continued arguing that the time should be granted to them, but Hamza was not acceptable as chief minister until the election for the slot was held.
He sought at least seven days for holding a run-off election.
CJP Bandial observed that three to five days would be appropriate for the run-off election. “There are two options – either conduct run-off elections in two days or Hamza will remain the CM till July 17.”
Justice Ahsan observed that there were two options – first the parties themselves reach a consensus and the second one was that the matter of recounting be taken into account after the by-election.
“Meanwhile, your members will return after performing Hajj. The issue of notification of five members will be resolved and through adopting legal procedure, the chief minister could be elected,” Justice Ahsan added.
Later, Elahi said the matter could be taken to July 17 but on complete assurance that Hamza would not violate the Constitution, no FIRs be registered against their lawmakers, no harassment be carried out and fair and free election took place.
On court’s instruction to speak, Hamza said nobody was “most important” but the system should be run in a smooth manner.
“I have the sufficient number of the MPAs. If the court orders to hold the recounting, I am ready,” he said.
“But why can’t I perform as the chief minister,” he asked.
The three-judge bench adjourned proceedings for a while to consult the matter within the parties after they could not reach a consensus.
CM Hamza and PML-N’s lawmakers assembled at the deputy registrar’s room while Elahi and his lawmakers sat in the bar room to decide what the future course of action would be.
After the interval, Elahi agreed saying he had no objection if Hamza remained the chief minister till the by-elections, but his grievances should be addressed.
Hamza assures court
“Hamza Shehbaz Sahib, do you intend to commit rigging in the election,” CJ Bandial asked the PML-N leader after the PTI alleged that the provincial government was planning to rig the upcoming by-polls in the province.
Hamza apprised the bench that his government would ensure free and transparent by-elections and rejected the PTI’s allegation of rigging.
Speaking to the media later, Hamza said the top court verdict on Punjab CM poll was acceptable, adding that people were free to vote for any candidate in the by-election.
“If I did not have the required numbers for run-off election then I would have left the office of the chief minister,” he added.
Speaking about the PTI’s allegations of using state machinery in the elections, Hamza said it did not suit the PTI and the PML-Q to speak about “harassment”.
“You know how they attacked the deputy speaker and what they did to the PML-N leaders while in government but they still have the audacity to speak about victimisation.”
“We will not take revenge but will act as per the law,” he remarked.
PTI challenges decision
Earlier in the day, the PTI had challenged the LHC decision in the apex court, and had requested for the plea to be heard urgently.
Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari, Hamza, and others were made party to the petition.
Following the filing of the appeal, CJP Bandial formed a three-member bench and fixed the petition for hearing at 1:30pm.
In its appeal, the PTI stated that while the LHC had accepted the party’s position, the order to convene a meeting of the provincial assembly on short notice would prove detrimental.
The petition dubbed the LHC’s decision "unconstitutional", stating that a suitable timeframe must be provided to convene a meeting of the assembly so that all members may attend as votes are to be recounted on July 1.
The PTI called for Hamza to be suspended from his post and removed from office so that “fair and transparent elections” could be held.
In light of their stance, the PTI called for the order of election to be suspended immediately, seeking their appeal be heard by the apex court on an emergency basis.
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