The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday instructed President Dr Arif Alvi to appoint a representative to administer oath to Punjab Chief Minister-elect Hamza Shehbaz after Governor Omar Sarfaraz Cheema refused to do so.
"A copy of the court order should immediately be sent to the president," LHC Chief Justice Ameer Bhatti said.
He gave the verbal order after the hearing of a petition filed by Hamza earlier this week. The PML-N leader had contended that he had been elected chief minister on April 16 in a session held on the directions of the LHC but Governor Cheema was refusing to adhere to his constitutional duty by delaying the oath-taking ceremony.
The judge had earlier adjourned the hearing till 2pm. Before that, he had warned Cheema to take a decision regarding the oath-taking ceremony or else "the court will announce its verdict", asserting that the governor had "no justification" to delay the oath.
Punjab Advocate General Ahmed Owais argued that he had met the governor on court orders and the two of them discussed some objections over administering oath to Hamza.
"In the absence of the governor, the speaker of the Punjab Assembly had the responsibility to administer the oath.
"But Hamza hasn't named the speaker as respondent in his petition," he argued.
When the judge asked whether the governor had given any reason for not administering the oath, Owais replied that the governor believed the chief minister's election was against the law and the Constitution. "The governor is not a rubber stamp or post office. The Punjab governor has taken an oath and he has to abide by the Constitution," the advocate general said.
He said he wanted to submit a detailed written response to the court because of the seriousness of the matter.
Justice Bhatti, however, remarked, "If it was so important, you would have prepared for your arguments. You just come to court to take dates." The judge then dismissed the advocate general's request to adjourn the hearing, saying that the governor had to respond.
'Cheema to write letter to President Alvi'
The LHC chief justice further observed that for the past 21 days, the province had been functioning without a government. "The system has come to a stop. What is the governor doing?
"If he doesn't want to administer the oath, tell us. The law will pave its own way forward," he said, adding that it was the only way to protect the province.
The advocate general informed the court that he had met Cheema recently, who he said was writing a letter to President Dr Arif Alvi about all the reasons for not administering oath to Hamza.
The judge then questioned what the governor had been doing for the past five days. "When will he send the reasons? I have postponed three hearings because of the lack of a government. The Punjab government's response was needed but there was no government in the province."
At this point, the advocate general reassured the court that the letter would be sent soon and no one would be allowed to go beyond constitutional limits.
"But when? Exactly when?" Justice Bhatti grilled Owais, remarking that the court could "not see the system being destroyed".
"I can't give an exact time," Owais replied. "He will write it either today or tomorrow ... as per the Constitution, the governor is not accountable to the court."
Subsequently, the judge remarked that delaying the oath was a violation of the Constitution and adjourned the hearing till 2pm.
Governor denies oath to Hamza
At a press conference earlier this week, Cheema had declined to administer oath to Hamza stating that the Punjab Assembly secretary's report, the LHC's instructions and the facts presented to him raised questions on the validity of the chief minister’s election.
"I have written to the Punjab advocate general and the Punjab Assembly speaker to seek their opinion on the assembly secretary's report, LHC directions and other facts to make up my mind whether to hold the oath-taking ceremony at the Governor House or not," he had said, adding that he could not endorse anything beyond the ambit of the Constitution.
Following Cheema's presser, a news item quoting PML-N central spokesperson Maryam Aurangzeb came to light, where she claimed that the governor had been removed from his office by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif using his discretionary powers.
The governor had, however, rejected the claim, saying he held a constitutional office and would continue to hold it. "Only the president of Pakistan has the power to de-notify a governor, which has yet not been done," he had asserted.
In his three-page report, the Punjab Assembly secretary stated that the deputy speaker had entered the house with his personal guards as well as his Punjab police detail, who manhandled the parliamentarians. Later, he stated, the deputy speaker called the deputy commissioner and DIG Operations summoned a heavy contingent of police. He stated that he explained that no other than the sergeants-at-arms could perform any duty on the floor of the house.
The assembly secretary stated that the deputy speaker conducted the election process from the Officers’ Box with a megaphone, which was contrary to the Assembly Rules and Procedures.
The principal secretary to governor, however, immediately wrote to him that the assembly secretary’s report had been found one-sided, biased and politically motivated and added that he (the secretary) had no power under any provision of the Constitution, the law or the Rules of the Punjab Assembly 1997 to call into question the declaration of the result by the deputy speaker, who was duly authorised by the Lahore High Court to conduct the election for the office of chief minister.
The principal secretary had added that no power was vested in the governor under the Constitution or any law to set aside the election on any grounds whatsoever.