After weeks of deadlock, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf administered oath to Punjab Chief Minister-elect Hamza Shehbaz at a ceremony held at the Governor House on Saturday, just hours after Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema rejected Usman Buzdar's resignation, deeming it "not constitutionally valid".
In unprecedented scenes today, Buzdar's cabinet was "restored" by Cheema, according to former provincial education minister Murad Raas, which even convened for a meeting, as guests were arriving to the Governor House to attend Hamza's oath-taking ceremony.
The ceremony eventually began with the recitation of the Holy Quran and a naat, after which Hamza — clad in a sherwani — was sworn in as the chief executive of Punjab, picking up a mantle held three times by his father, Shehbaz Sharif.
While the ceremony was underway, Governor Cheema urged the chief justice to take notice of the "ghunda gardi" at the Governor House. He also said the "drama of a fake chief minister's oath" was being performed in an "unconstitutional" manner.
Later, the Punjab chief secretary notified that Hamza had assumed the charge of the chief minister's office.
The notification, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, stated: "Consequent upon the judgement of the Lahore High Court under writ petition no. 27186 of 2022, Mr Muhammad Hamza Shahbaz Sharif has taken the oath of the office of the chief ministry of Punjab before speaker, National Assembly on 30th day of April, 2022."
In a separate notification, also available with Dawn.com, the chief secretary notified that Buzdar had ceased to hold the CM office.
"Consequent upon assumption of office of chief minister of Punjab by Mr Muhammad Hamza Shahbaz Sharif on 30th April, 2022, Mr Usman Ahmed Khan Buzdar, chief minister of Punjab under provision of Article 133 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, has ceased to hold office with immediate effect," the notification read.
However, Cheema termed the notification for Hamza's assumption of the CM office "fake".
"As the governor, I am not allowing the notification for the appointment of any unconstitutional and fake chief minister. The way they forcibly and deceitfully put up a drama of the oath-taking, they have now attempted to prepare a fake notification for it," he tweeted.
'Will move forward for greater benefit of the people'
Following the ceremony, Hamza spoke with reporters and pledged he would work for the "greater benefit of the people" of Pakistan and Punjab. He also took the opportunity to criticise the deadlock with regard to his oath.
"Punjab remained in a [leadership] crisis for one month," he said. "What was the fault of the 120 million people that they were deprived of a chief executive?"
He also rapped the previous government, vowing to move forward for the welfare of the people as opposed to "examples of destruction, corruption and bad governance set by the PTI government.
In response to a question, Hamza said he "cannot compete with Shehbaz speed, but will take assistance from him and will try to match him".
Rowdy election and court hearings
Hamza was elected as the Punjab CM on April 16, during a provincial assembly session that was marred by mayhem and violence. His oath-taking, however, faced delays after Punjab Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema refused to administer the oath to him, questioning the validity of his election.
Subsequently, Hamza had approached the Lahore High Court on April 21, which instructed President Alvi to appoint a representative to administer the oath in the absence of the governor.
However, after a delay by the president in following the court's directive, Hamza had approached the court again on April 25. This time, he had asked the LHC to instruct Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to administer oath to him. In his ruling, LHC Chief Justice Ameer Bhatti had directed Governor Cheema to complete Hamza's oath-taking process by April 28.
When the president and governor still failed to follow the court's instructions, Hamza sought the LHC's intervention for a third time on Friday (yesterday).
In his third petition, Hamza requested the court to "kindly direct the administration of oath to the chief minister-elect by a person nominated by this honourable court at the Governor House at a specified time and the coercive arm of the state be set in motion for implementation of the orders of this honourable court".
The LHC then directed the NA speaker to administer the oath to Hamza Shehbaz on Saturday (today).
In a late-night development on Friday, the Punjab government announced that the oath-taking ceremony would be held at 10:30am at Governor House.
Meanwhile, Punjab Assembly Speaker and PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi said he would challenge the LHC's decision on Hamza's third plea.
Speaking on Dunya News TV programme 'Dunya Kamran Khan Kay Sath', Elahi said, “If the courts open in the morning then our lawyers will go and appear before the court. The decision will be challenged tomorrow (Saturday).”
Elahi, who was the other contender for the Punjab CM position, had boycotted the election for the province's chief executive.
Governor rejects Buzdar's resignation
Earlier today, Punjab Governor Cheema had rejected the resignation of Buzdar — who had stepped down as the provincial chief executive on March 28 — declaring that it was "not constitutionally valid".
The governor, who had been refusing to administer the oath to Hamza despite court directives to perform the duty, informed Punjab Assembly Speaker Elahi of his decision in a letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com.
In the letter, Cheema wrote that in light of "the recent developments and ensuing constitutional crisis, I feel that it would be unbecoming of Governor's office unless I bring to your notice the true and correct facts relating to the alleged resignation of Chief Minister Mr Sardar Usman Ahmed Khan Buzdar".
Elaborating on the "saga" that unfolded after Buzdar submitted his resignation on March 28, Cheema pointed out that the "communication which was styled as the resignation" was a printed letter addressed to the prime minister.
He maintained that under Article 130 (8) of the Constitution, the communication could not be treated as a letter of resignation as the said provision mandated that in order for a resignation letter to be valid, it had to be handwritten and addressed to the governor.
Cheema said it seemed Buzdar was not advised properly on the matter or there may be some other reasons for these errors "best known to him" (Buzdar).
He regretted that Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, who was the Punjab governor when Buzdar had submitted his resignation, had not taken into consideration the implications of Article 130 (8).
"This is despite the fact that the mentioned gentleman in public gathering/press conference acknowledged these constitutional deficiencies as detailed hereinabove," Cheema highlighted, adding that Buzdar's communication was "erroneously treated" by Sarwar as a resignation.
Cheema said after replacing Sarwar as the governor, he had sought the advice of the advocate general of Punjab on Buzdar's resignation.
He added that the advocate general had written a letter to him on April 18, expressing an opinion that was "startling".
"According to him (advocate general), Mr Buzdar's resignation which was treated as a resignation and notified accordingly was utterly unconstitutional".
Cheema said in the advocate general's opinion, the resignation was in violation of Article 130 (8). Moreover, Cheema continued, "the discussion inter se further highlighted that the subsequent notification were invalid in law because the very resignation and acceptance thereof was in violation to law".
Cheema recalled that he had communicated these details to President Arif Alvi via a letter forwarded to the latter on April 23.
In this connection, he added that "issues relating to the disputed election between the rival candidates to the office of the chief minister was highly embarrassing and in violation to the Constitution as well as the Rules of the Assembly".
Cheema said this, too, was communicated to the president.
He further referred to the LHC's orders on the matter, saying that the high court had directed the National Assembly speaker to administer the oath to Hamza, whose election "was marred by chaos, turmoil and is utterly doubtful".
"The mode and manner in which it has been conducted has already been commented upon by the secretary of the Punjab Assembly and opined by the AG Punjab to be unconstitutional," Cheema said.
He went on to say that the "entire developments and the discharge of constitutional work of my office has been put in disruption".
"The insistence through judicial orders to sanctify these unlawful activities in the form of administering an oath to Mr Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, in the context of above-mentioned facts, is highly unfortunate and not as per the constitutional mandate."
Cheema said he had been advised by "well-wishers to be circumspect and be cautious in this entire gamut".
"However, I have decided not to shun away from my constitutional role as history will judge me for the steps I intend to take during my tenure for upholding the law and the Constitution," he added.
He said his stance was that Buzdar's resignation was "not constitutionally valid, [and] all consequent steps taken thereupon including the notification of my predecessor notifying his resignation as such is invalid in law. The same are not endorsed by my office nor do I accept them as valid".
He asked the PA speaker to take up the matter and act according to the provisions of the Constitution as deemed appropriate by him.
Former Punjab education minister Murad Raas confirmed the development in a tweet earlier this morning, saying that Cheema had "restored" Buzdar's cabinet and a meeting of the provincial cabinet had been called subsequently.
Later, Buzdar reached the Punjab Assembly and spoke to the media, confirming the rejection of his resignation.
He said he, too, had received a copy of Cheema's letter to the PA speaker and that it would be discussed in the "cabinet meeting" called today.
Buzdar refused to comment any further on the matter, saying that he would consult his legal team and the cabinet.
Following that, he chaired a meeting at the Punjab Assembly. The PTI's official Twitter account said the meeting was that of the provincial cabinet.
After Buzdar, PML-N leader Ataullah Tarar also spoke to the media about today's developments.
"We are glad they have done this," Tarar told reporters, adding that the governor's moves of today would be added to the "charge sheet" of the case that "we are preparing to file under Article 6" — which pertains to high treason.
"We now have [another] point on him (governor) sabotaging the Constitution and refusing to follow court orders."
Buzdar had presented his resignation to then-premier Imran on March 28 after a delegation of senior lawmakers had submitted a no-trust motion against him with Punjab Assembly Secretary Muhammad Khan Bhatti on the same day.
Following Buzdar's resignation, the PTI had announced PML-Q's Elahi as its candidate for Punjab chief minister.
The move had come as the ruling party had stepped up efforts to ensure the support of its allies ahead of a no-trust vote against Imran, against the backdrop of multiple PTI allies joining the opposition.
On April 1, Sarwar had formally accepted Buzdar's resignation and summoned a session of the Punjab Assembly for the election of a new provincial chief executive.
Two days later, Sarwar was removed from the post and replaced with Cheema.
On April 20, the acceptance of former Punjab chief minister Buzdar's resignation by ex-governor Sarwar was challenged in the LHC. The petition also contested the acceptance of resignation on the basis of Article 130 (8). It was withdrawn after a rebuke of the high court.
Additional reporting by Ali Waqar