PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday seeking its help in holding elections for Punjab's new chief minister in a "fair and transparent" manner.
Hamza's petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, named the province of Punjab through its chief secretary, the PA speaker and deputy speaker, and the provincial police chief as respondents.
LHC Chief Justice Amir Bhatti took up the petition alongside a similar plea filed by Punjab Assembly (PA) Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Mazari — who was recently stripped of his powers by Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi for joining the opposition ranks.
Earlier in the day, the registrar had raised objections on Hamza's petition, stating that the speaker's orders could not be challenged in the court. However, they were removed by the LHC CJ, who admitted the plea.
At the outset of the hearing, Hamza's counsel Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar argued that provincial lawmakers were barred from entering the assembly building on April 6. He said that the session for voting on the province's new chief was first scheduled to be held on April 6, before being moved to April 16.
"When the date for voting has been announced, what's the problem," the judge asked the counsel.
The lawyer replied that the province was without a chief executive for days, cautioning that it was an "important issue".
He went on to say that the Punjab advocate general had assured the Supreme Court on April 5 that the session would be held the next day.
"When the deputy speaker was made aware of this, he summoned a session," the lawyer said, adding that the apex court had announced a "historic" decision yesterday.
At this, the LHC chief justice summoned the Punjab advocate general and admitted the petition.
When the hearing resumed after a short break, the judge was informed that the Punjab advocate general was in Islamabad and would not be able to appear in court. Consequently, Justice Bhatti decided to issue notices to all respondents for Monday (April 11).
However, the PML-N lawyer protested that Monday would be too late and suggested that it should be fixed for tomorrow. "The SC even heard the case on a Sunday," he said, referring to the court's suo motu notice of National Assembly proceedings.
Justice Bhatti replied that the apex court had taken a suo-motu notice. "The hearing will take place as per the Constitution and the law. You have filed the case today. We will only be able to proceed once the record is available," the judge said, adding that the court had to work according to the rules of the Constitution.
The court issued notices to Elahi, Mazari, the Punjab chief secretary, and the provincial police chief. The judge also sought a record of the Punjab chief minister's election from the provincial secretary and adjourned the hearing till April 11.
In his petition, the PML-N leader stated that the inaction in holding elections for the post was "based on mala fide, with [the] intent to defeat the mandatory constitutional requirements, making political gains by using public office(s) and authority is evidently inchoate; arbitrary; unreasonable; irrational and without jurisdiction".
The petition said that after Buzdar's resignation, the nomination papers of Hamza and Elahi were submitted in the provincial assembly and which were later accepted. It added that a session was called on April 3 in order to elect the new chief minister but it was adjourned.
"In order to exhibit the clear will of the people’s representatives, the political parties who nominated and support the petitioner for the slot of chief minister, held a session in a hotel next to the building of the [PA] and passed a resolution in favour of the petitioner by a majority of 200 votes," the petition said, referring to the opposition's mock assembly session.
The petition also argued that under these circumstances, a constitutional crisis had been triggered which was "never witnessed before."
Hamza urged court to declare the impugned actions and inactions — such as adjourning the house without holding the election, sealing the PA premises and barring lawmakers from discharging their constitutional mandate — to be "without lawful authority and of no legal effect".
The PML-N leader called on the court to issue directives for convening the session of the provincial assembly "forthwith" and for the election process to be "completed without any adjournment in any manner whatsoever".
He also called on the court to direct the respondents to ensure that there is no interference with lawmakers who wished to attend the session and cast their vote.
Punjab CM election
The Punjab Assembly (PA) has to elect the new leader of the house after Usman Buzdar resigned last month. PML-Q's Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and PML-N's Hamza, 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.
On Thursday, the opposition submitted a no-confidence motion against Elahi, who is also the PA speaker, further squeezing space for the provincial government to play its cards.
After the apex court’s decision yesterday, where it nullified the National Assembly deputy speaker’s ruling on the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, the ruling coalition in Punjab has once again warned its MPAs against voting for Hamza or they would be de-seated.
In the National Assembly, the joint opposition may not need the dissident PTI MNAs to oust PM Imran as it has the required numbers, including the support of the former government’s allies. But in the PA, the opposition needs the backing of a good number of PTI dissenters to install its chief minister.
According to the assembly secretariat, the session will be convened on April 16 as per an earlier notification of the assembly signed by the deputy speaker. Elahi had used his authority as the speaker and ordered withdrawal of powers delegated to Mazari with immediate effect.
Mazari’s power to preside over a session was also snatched following the submission of a no-confidence motion against him by his own fellow lawmakers in the PTI-PML-Q coalition. His sudden change of heart was termed the ‘handiwork’ of the PML-N leadership that allegedly wooed him through a ‘good offer’.