Lurching from crisis to crisis, the disputed chief minister of the country’s biggest province, Hamza Shehbaz, has once again found himself wresting his hard-earned prize from the nuts and bolts of the Constitution – yet again.
After months of hard labour, wild assembly sessions, and two oath-taking ceremonies under the ashirwad (blessings) of a mighty coalition led by his father, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, all the PML-N scion could secure for himself is the charge of a “trustee” chief minister.
After three months in the frying pan, he is now staring into a fire.
In his last elections, at issue was the legality of votes given to him, whereas in his latest predicament, it is the legitimacy of votes not given in his favour. The latest of the two oaths was taken early on Saturday but just before he could erupt in cheers, the Supreme Court curtailed his powers.
Perpetually subject to vehement challenges, the embattled chief minister’s rule has remained mired in the thicket of controversies from the very first day – fast assuming aspects of a bad practical joke.
The chaos was triggered when the PTI lost its majority in the provincial assembly earlier this year after twenty-five of its MPAs decided to move to greener pastures. The PTI accused its dissidents of taking a hefty amount for switching sides, but the defecting parliamentarians insisted they now saw a messiah in the PML-N’s leadership.
The elections for CM were due to take place late in March after the then CM Punjab Usman Buzdar – the “Wasim Akaram plus” of PTI chief Imran Khan –resigned to avoid being booted out in the wake of a vote of no-confidence.
However, the elections got delayed after Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervez Elahi kept stonewalling the process, for fear of an imminent defeat.
‘Nine days wonder’
Nonetheless, the elections finally took place on April 16 on court orders and Hamza was able to win the coveted slot by obtaining 197 votes, including those of twenty-five defectors. To ensure everything went smoothly, the PML-N even organised a mock session for the CM Punjab elections in a private hotel.
After the opposition lawmakers in Punjab were barred from entering the provincial assembly premises to hold the election of the chief minister, they executed their ‘plan B’ and moved to a hotel and held a mock PA session where they passed a resolution to elect Hamza Shehbaz.
However, the only issue that arose was when at one point during the rehearsals the participants seemed to have forgotten the ersatz nature of the elections they were and went into a triumphal mood, celebrating Hamza as the victor.
The victory however proved to be a ‘nine days wonder’ after the votes of the twenty-five PTI defectors were declared void on 17 May, plunging the matter into another uncertainty – a big “oh-no-moment” for many analysts.
In the light of the SC’s decision, on June 30, the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered a recount of votes and run-off elections on July 1, limiting the powers of Hamza Shehbaz as premier of the province. Emboldened and reassured, the PML-N leader heaved a sigh of relief since the electoral college was in his favour.
But peace and stability still eluded him as the matter went back to the apex court after the LHC’s decision got challenged on a different ground. Subsequently, it was ordered that the run-off elections would be held on 22 July, five days before the by-elections.
The PML-N scion was allowed to play chief minister in continuation with LHC’s order but with limited powers. However, with a landslide victory, the PTI turned the tables on the PML-N-led coalition that helped the former to lay their rightful claim on the government.
The constant limbo
Meanwhile, the PTI, in its vengeance against the PML-N for stealing its parliamentarians, kept Hamza on tenterhooks for more than a month.
The PML-N leader who had secured a majority of the House was first refused the oath after the then Governor Punjab Omer Sarfraz Cheema was in no mood to legitimise the election process that saw the provincial assembly turn into a battle zone, and kept ignoring the LHC’s advice to administer the oath.
Later 29 April 29, the LHC had to direct the speaker of the National Assembly to administer the oath to Hamza, which then allowed him to resume his office formally.
However, the issue of the governor’s refusal to administer the oath to the new government reared its head again, impeding the formation of the cabinet.
After weeks of a constitutional crisis that left both the country’s political heartland and Hamza’s fate in limbo, a new governor was sworn in on May 30, which ended the administrative impasse for PML-N.
But Hamza then was in no mood to share power. He had in reality only given a portfolio to one cabinet member, Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan. Others including Atta Tarar and Sardar Awais Lagari were never given any portfolio.
Tarar, however, kept calling himself an interior minister and the media too obliged. The remaining members, including those of PPP, were ministers to the extent of perks.
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