The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday instructed Punjab Governor Omar Sarfaraz Cheema to "ensure the completion of the process" of administering oath to Chief Minister-elect Hamza Shehbaz, either himself or through a nominee, "on or before" April 28 (Friday).
The decision was announced in an open court at 10am on a petition filed by Hamza seeking the court's direction to the Senate chairman to administer oath to him.
In a three-page verdict, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, LHC Chief Justice Ameer Bhatti ruled that all provisions of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, suggested prompt formation of governments, both federal and provincial.
"For that matter, expeditious administration of oath either by President or by Governor or their nominee, as the case may be, is mandatory," he said, pointing out that there was no "vacuum" or "space" in the Constitution to delay the administration of oath.
Justice Bhatti underscored that Punjab was being operated without a functional government for the last 25 days since the acceptance of former CM Usman Buzdar's resignation. "On the other hand, the oath of the newly elected Chief Minister Punjab Mr. Muhammad Hamza Shahbaz Sharif is being delayed on one pretext or the other, which is not only against democratic norms but also against the scheme of the Constitution," he observed.
Subsequently, the court directed Cheema to "ensure the completion of the process of administration of oath of Chief Minister Punjab, either himself or through his nominee, in terms of Article 255 of the Constitution, on or before 28.04.2022."
It also instructed President Dr Arif Alvi to facilitate the administration of Hamza's oath and "play his role mandated by the Constitution/Law" by ensuring a functional government in Punjab.
Hamza — who was elected as Punjab's chief executive on April 16 during a provincial assembly session marred by mayhem — had approached the LHC on April 25 for the second time for its intervention regarding his oath-taking ceremony as the Punjab governor continued to refrain from administering oath to him, questioning the validity of his election, and President Alvi delayed the nomination of another individual to perform the duty, as directed by the high court earlier.
Hamza had argued that the president's and governor's non-compliance with the court order and Constitution regarding the administration of oath to him had "rendered them unable to discharge their constitutional obligation".
He added that their "inability and unwillingness" was based on "sheer mala fide", adding that nomination of another person to perform the duty was also being "withheld for irrelevant political considerations".
The PML-N leader had also termed the "unconstitutional inaction" and non-compliance with the court order a "contraption of abuse of command of the Constitution and process of law".
Subsequently, LHC CJ Bhatti took up the case yesterday and reserved its verdict.
Governor denies oath to Hamza
At a press conference on April 17, a day after Hamza was elected as chief minister, Cheema had declined to administer oath to him 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 the 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.