• Joint opposition’s candidate wins 197 votes to become Punjab CM
• PTI, PML-Q MPAs throw lotas at deputy speaker as he enters hall
• Parvez Elahi, several others injured in violence
• Hamza says won’t seek revenge, but law will take its course
LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly on Saturday descended into chaos, which quickly turned into outright violence, leaving many injured, including Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, but eventually managed to elect Hamza Shehbaz as the 21st leader of the House after law enforcement agencies took control of the assembly hall.
Mr Shehbaz bagged 197 votes, including from 24 Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) dissidents, two independents and the lone Rah-i-Haq Party MPA. The PTI-PML-Q candidate, Parvez Elahi, did not get any vote, as lawmakers from both ruling parties boycotted the session.
It was pandemonium in the House from the get-go, as PTI and PML-Q MPAs entered the hall carrying plastic water pots (lota) shouting slogans of ‘Lotay’ (turncoats), ‘Loton per laanat’ (curse on turncoats), ‘Amreeka ka jo yaar hai, ghaddar hai’ (Whoever is a US supporter is a traitor), ‘Laiker aao speaker ko’ (Bring in the speaker). The PML-N, its allies and the PTI dissidents, however, remained silent and did not respond to the slogans.
Matters, however, spun out of hand as soon as Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari entered the hall to chair the session. The ruling coalition’s lawmakers threw the plastic lotas at him, while some of them reached towards him, dragged him by his hair and even thrashed him. The assembly guards, however, managed to rescue Mazari and took him back to his chamber. The protesting MPAs, meanwhile, broke the speaker’s chair, microphone and a side table, and threw around various articles, including files, in the House.
It took around three and a half hours to call in a heavy contingent of anti-riot police amidst strong protest and violence. The PML-N MPAs only lost patience when several private guards of Mr Elahi (wearing assembly force’s uniform) as well as plainclothesmen entered the hall from the rear entrance. The opposition MPAs thrashed the guards and threw them out of the House. This further mayhem that spanned over five minutes also left Mr Elahi, one of the two candidates for the chief minister’s slot, and his photographer, Iqbal Chaudhry, injured.
The police and anti-riot force took almost an hour to take positions inside the House, while women MPAs sat over the speaker’s dice and chanted slogans.
To the surprise of PTI and PML-Q MPAs, the deputy speaker initiated the assembly proceedings from a guest lobby in the hall over a mega phone, and read out the agenda and assembly rules for the election of the chief minister. Amidst fierce slogans, he called for voting for both the candidates. While the votes for opposition candidate Hamza Shehbaz were being counted, the PTI and PML-Q MPAs boycotted the session and walked out of the House. They were followed by slogans of ‘vote ko izzat do’ by PML-N MPAs.
After the counting, Deputy Speaker Mazari announced that Mr Shehbaz had been elected the Punjab chief minister by bagging 197 votes. Owing to the ruling coalition’s boycott, no vote was polled for Mr Elahi. Later, the deputy speaker formally notified Hamza as the chief minister.
Elahi’s claims of injury
Mr Elahi later claimed his right arm had been fractured and, along with his son Moonis and women MPAs, reached Qila Gujjar Singh police station to apply for the registration of a first information report (FIR) against PML-N MPAs. He alleged that he was injured at the behest of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz. “I will not forgive them,” Mr Elahi declared, adding he had been lenient towards Hamza when he was the speaker, and used to issue his production orders.
On the other hand, the police was also approached by PML-N MPAs for an FIR against the private guards of Mr Elahi.
Earlier, Mr Elahi had chided the anti-riot policemen, who had entered the House to provide cover to the deputy speaker. “How come police entered the House,” he asked, and claimed the inspector general of police (IGP) would be punished. “The IGP will be called to the House and punished for a month.”
Later, Moonis Elahi issued an emotional reaction to the injuries caused to his father. He said: “I will not spare those involved in the attack on my father,” the former federal minister stated. PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain also condemned the ‘attack’ on Mr Elahi in strongest terms.
‘Law will take course’
Meanwhile, soon after his election as the chief minister, Hamza Shehbaz paid tribute to the deputy speaker for his bravery in conducting the session against all odds, including the violent protest by the PTI and PML-Q MPAs.
Addressing Parvez Elahi, the newly elected CM said it was a matter of grave concern that the custodian of the House himself closed the doors on the face of MPAs and then instigated the ruling coalition MPAs to attack the deputy speaker.
Regretting the mayhem inside the assembly, Mr Shehbaz said he was not interested in seeking revenge from the opponents, but in the same breath said the law would take its own course and punish those responsible. “The conspiracy against democracy and the Constitution will thoroughly be investigated and those responsible be punished,” he stressed.
He recalled that the PML-N had reservations over the 2018 general elections, yet he and his party MPAs only wore black armbands and protested peacefully because they wanted democracy to take its course. He claimed many of his colleagues in the assembly as well as himself have languished in jails, but never resorted to violence.
Mr Shehbaz called out former prime minister Imran Khan for snatching livelihoods from the poor and demolishing their huts but regularising his “illegal” Banigala residence. He also lambasted Mr Khan for ‘punishing’ Punjab by getting Usman Buzdar elected as the chief minister.
Later, he thanked the PTI dissidents, independents and Rah-i-Haq party MPA for their support for his election. He announced the PML-N would bring in a strong local government system in Punjab.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Dost Mazari claimed he was attacked by PTI and PML-Q MPAs through a planned move.
Earlier, CM candidate Elahi’s spokesman, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, alleged that PML-N MPAs attacked the speaker inside the assembly hall. In the history of Punjab Assembly, he claimed, the police force had never entered the floor.
Answering a question about the PTI MPAs starting hooliganism inside the assembly and thrashing the deputy speaker, Mr Chohan exclaimed MPAs had the right to protest in any form inside the assembly. But, he said, police had no right to enter the House and block the MPAs’ movement.
Punjab Governor Omer Sarfraz Cheema has sought a report from the Punjab Assembly secretary by Sunday noon about the mismanagement in the House during the election for chief minister. The secretary has also been asked to provide footage of the assembly session.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2022