After the Punjab Assembly was on Wednesday sealed off with barbed wires and the building's main gate was locked, the opposition lawmakers, led by the PML-N, held a session of their own at a private hotel, with PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz claiming that Hamza Shehbaz had been "elected" as the Punjab chief minister.
The legality of the session and Hamza's subsequent "victory" was unclear as the session was held outside the Punjab Assembly and attended only by opposition lawmakers, while neither Speaker Parvez Elahi nor Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari presided it. Furthermore, no notifications regarding the change of session's venue or Hamza's "victory" were issued by the Punjab Assembly secretariat.
The session was instead presided over by PPP MPA Shazia Abid, who told Dawn.com that she was appointed to the panel of chairmen for the 40th session of the Punjab Assembly on April 3. According to the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab 1997, a member of the panel of chairmen can preside over the session in the absence of speaker and the deputy speaker. Her presence on the panel was corroborated by a statement issued by Punjab Assembly Secretary Muhammad Khan Bhatti on April 2.
Panel of Chairmen.– (1) At the commencement of a session, the Speaker shall nominate, in order of precedence, from amongst members a panel of not more than four Chairmen and in the absence of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the member having precedence amongst those present at the sitting shall take the Chair.
It is pertinent to mention that the joint opposition had held a mock session in the National Assembly on Sunday after the actual session was wrapped up by NA Depute Speaker Qasim Khan Suri.
However, in a tweet prior to the commencement of the gathering, Maryam said that tonight's session would have the backing of the "Constitution and law" and will not just be symbolic.
"The session of the Punjab Assembly that is going to take place presently is not symbolic but a constitutional and legal one," she tweeted. "God willing, the PML-N is going to prove its majority."
She later tweeted that Hamza had been "elected" as Punjab's new chief minister by the opposition members with 199 votes.
PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb shared a video of the two PML-N scions greeting and congratulating each other.
Speaking on the legality of today's vote, PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah told Geo News that assembly session had been held at Faletti's Hotel in the past as well, adding that if a majority of the MPAs had expressed their confidence in Hamza then "indeed constitutionally and legally Hamza is Punjab's CM."
Addressing a press conference after the session, Maryam and Hamza thanked Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's dissident Jahangir Khan Tareen and Aleem Khan groups, the PPP and others for their support.
The two also decried the sealing of the Punjab Assembly and particularly criticised Parvez Elahi for his alleged involvement in the matter.
Hamza challenged the PML-Q leader to contest for chief ministry against him in a fair manner and said Elahi would have to answer for his "black actions".
Both the PML-N leaders thanked the Jahangir Khan Tareen group, Aleem Khan group, PPP, Asad Khokhar group and others for their support to Hamza.
The two also lashed out at the sealing of the Punjab Assembly and took aim at PML-Q chief Pervez Elahi in particular for his alleged role in the events.
Reacting to the development, PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi, whose father and party leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi is also a candidate for chief ministry, quipped: "Congratulations Hamza sahab for becoming the chief minister of Faletti's Hotel."
Mazari says session can be held anywhere; PA spox questions legality
Earlier, while talking to the media in Lahore, Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari said that an assembly session could be called anywhere.
He said he had consulted legal experts who advised him to carry out the chief minister's election "immediately on today's date".
Mazari alleged the PA Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and his staff were afraid that he would create a dangerous situation for them.
He said he had exercised his authority in accordance with the Constitution as the biggest province of Pakistan was without a chief minister.
It is pertinent to mention that during a Supreme Court hearing earlier in the day, Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial was told that the Punjab Assembly staff were not following the directives issued by the deputy speaker. At this, he had remarked that if the system was not cooperating then constitutional officeholders could use their rights.
"The deputy speaker can call the session in Bagh-i-Jinnah if he wants," he said.
However, a Punjab Assembly spokesperson said in a statement that the deputy speaker could not preside over a session of the assembly after the submission of a no-confidence motion against him.
"Constitutionally, the deputy speaker does not have the authority to preside over any session," the spokesperson said, adding that Mazari chairing any assembly session would be in violation of the Constitution.
Punjab Assembly sealed off with barbed wire, gate locked
Earlier, a large contingent of police carrying batons and equipped with shields was deployed outside the actual building of the assembly. Water cannons and Rescue 1122 vehicles were also present outside the assembly's building.
The development coincided with the submission of a no-confidence motion against Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari, after he said the session for the chief minister's election would take place tonight at 7:30 pm, but a spokesperson for the provincial assembly and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) denied the development.
Bilawal decries sealing of Punjab Assembly
Reacting to the sealing of the provincial assembly, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari decried that the deputy speaker had been "locked out" of the assembly on the day of voting for the chief minister's election.
The PPP chief said in a tweet: "If it takes 30 seconds to pull off a coup, it should take 30 seconds to undo a coup. Justice delayed is justice denied. After last week's constitutional breakdown in Islamabad, today Punjab deputy speaker was locked out of [the] assembly on [the] day of voting for CM. Barbered [sic] wire around people's house."
Earlier, Maryam announced that she would be reaching the Punjab Assembly at 7pm tonight to support Hamza.
"To stand with Hamza who clearly has the majority, I will be going to [the] Punjab Assembly ijlaas (session) at 7[pm] Insha’Allah," she tweeted.
No-confidence motion submitted against deputy speaker
The resolution seeking the removal of the deputy speaker was filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and PML-Q lawmakers today morning, the PML-Q spokesperson confirmed to Dawn.com. He said the resolution was submitted at the office of the Punjab Assembly's secretary.
The resolution, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, was addressed to the provincial assembly speaker, PML-Q's Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who is also a candidate for the chief minister.
In the resolution, the lawmakers said Mazari had lost the confidence of the majority of the house and that provincial assembly proceedings were not being carried out according to the Constitution.
They maintained that in light of the "current situation in the country, he (Mazari) had eradicated democratic norms in the provincial assembly of Punjab".
"We, the members of PTI and PML, hereby give notice under 53 (7) (c) read with Article 127 of the Constitution under rule 12 of the Rules of Procedure Provincial Assembly of Punjab, 1997 for [...] the resolution for removal of the deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly," the motion read.
According to rule 12, a no-confidence motion against a speaker or deputy speaker shall be entered into the provincial assembly's List of Business for the first working day after the expiry of seven days of the receipt of the notice. The rule further says that "no other item shall be included in the List of Business for the day fixed for a motion for leave to move a resolution".
According to the rule, the votes of at least one-fourth of the total members the house will be required for the tabling of the resolution.
The rule further states that the assembly "should not be adjourned until the motion for leave is disposed of or, if the leave is granted [to move the resolution], the resolution has been voted upon".
Article 53 (7) (c) of the Constitution also pertains to the removal of a speaker or deputy speaker, stating that "the office of the speaker or deputy speaker shall become vacant if he is removed from the office by a resolution of the assembly, of which not less than seven days' notice has been given, which is passed by the votes of the majority of the total membership of the assembly."
Following the submission of the no-confidence motion, the PML-Q spokesperson said Mazari no longer had the authority to call an assembly session.
Later, the Punjab Assembly speaker issued a notification, withdrawing all powers delegated to Mazari.
The notification, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, read: "In suppression of my earlier order and in exercise of the powers vested in me under rule 15 read with rule 235 of the Rules of Procedures of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab, 1997, I, Parvez Elahi, speaker [of] the provincial assembly of Punjab, hereby withdraw the powers delegated to Mr deputy speaker in terms of rule 25 of the Rules ibid with immediate effect."
Confusion over the session
On Tuesday, Mazari had moved the assembly session for electing the province's next chief minister to April 16 at 11:30am, citing repair and maintenance work in the assembly hall as the reason.
However, in a late night development, he had superseded his earlier order and summoned the PA to meet at 7:30pm tonight — a development that was denied by a spokesperson for the provincial assembly and the PML-Q.
Speaking to DawnNewsTV, the deputy speaker asserted that the assembly session would be held today. He also accused some PA staff members of playing the "wrong role" in the convening of the session, stating that they were "spreading confusion".
"The session has been scheduled for today in light of the directions of the Supreme Court," he said, adding that the same had been conveyed to Chaudhry Parvez Elahi.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had dictated an order highlighting the assurance held out by Punjab Advocate General Ahmed Awais that the proceedings of the PA would be conducted today within the ambit of the law and the Constitution.
Mazari said he would play his "constitutional role" in the election for the province's chief minister. He added that he had issued the notification for convening the session today after consulting with his lawyers and stood by it.
Separately, the spokesperson for the PA speaker, claimed that the assembly session would be held on April 16.
"The assembly session has been adjourned till April 16 due to ongoing repair work," Dr Zain Ali said, adding that the assembly hall and the lobby sustained damage due to "commotion".
"The assembly session will not be held today," he concluded.
On Tuesday, PML-Q leader Moonis Elahi had told Dawn that the new notification issued by the deputy speaker was ‘fake’ as it did not have a diary number and was written on a plain piece of paper and had asserted that the session would be held on April 16.
Meanwhile, the PML-N has said that its own MPAs as well as dissidents from the PTI will converge at the assembly today to push for convening the session without any delay.
Punjab chief minister election
The provincial assembly has to elect the new leader of the house after Usman Buzdar resigned last month after a no-confidence motion was submitted against him. PML-Q's Elahi and PML-N's Hamza Shehbaz, who has secured the support of PTI's dissident lawmakers, the Jahangir Khan Tarin and Aleem Khan groups, are expected to go head to head in the race to become the next chief minister.
To be elected as chief minister, a candidate will need at least 186 votes in the 371-member house.
In the Punjab Assembly, the PTI has 183 lawmakers, PML-Q 10, PML-N 165, PPP seven, five are independent and one belongs to Rah-i-Haq.
The decisive factor in the election will be the support of the Jahangir Tarin group, which is said to have the votes of at least 16 MPAs.