Hamza Shehbaz's troubles far from over after defection verdict

Published May 19, 2022
This image shows PML-N's Hamza Shehbaz after he was elected Punjab CM on April 16. — Photo courtesy: Hina Pervez Butt Twitter
This image shows PML-N's Hamza Shehbaz after he was elected Punjab CM on April 16. — Photo courtesy: Hina Pervez Butt Twitter

LAHORE: As Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) provincial lawmakers met beleaguered Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz on Wednesday to form a joint strategy in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict on defecting lawmakers, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) announced moving the court to oust the provincial chief executive.

The PTI has also hinted at accepting the offer of the PML-N-led government in the Centre to hold talks on electoral reforms, but only after the date for next elections is announced. The party also met the PML-Q leaders to devise their own joint strategy to oust Hamza.

Read more: SC on defections

PPP lawmakers — led by Hasan Murtaza — met the chief minister and discussed the situation arising after the SC verdict. In the current situation, the PPP is eying at least four ministries and some advisory positions in Punjab after being apparently ditched by the PML-N for the Punjab governor and assembly speaker’s slots. The PPP lawmakers assured Hamza of their support and told him not to worry in case a run-off poll for CM was held.

Both CM Hamza and the PTI provincial leadership held separate meetings with legal experts to discuss the impact of the apex court’s decision, which declared that votes of defecting lawmakers will not be counted.

In view of this development, the PML-N says it is ready to go for a run-off election for a new chief minister, if such a situation arises in light of the SC verdict. The PTI, on the other hand, believes Hamza ceases to be the CM after a “clear verdict” of the Supreme Court on the status of turncoats. If he does not resign forthwith, the party will be approaching the court to send him home.

Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar however maintained that Hamza would not quit. “Both the federal and Punjab governments will complete their tenures (till Aug 2023),” he stressed.

PML-N deputy secretary general Ataullah Tarar also said: “In case the PTI proves (in the Election Commission of Pakistan) that its parliamentary meeting was held and the lawmakers were advised to vote for Chaudhry Parvez Elahi (the joint PTI-PML-Q candidate for CM), we still have the majority to win the run-off election for the office.”

He said the PML-N with the support of the PPP, independent and Rah-i-Haq party lawmakers will be able to clinch 173 votes in the Punjab Assembly, as compared to the PTI-PML-Q’s 168. However, the PML-N’s 161, PPP’s seven, three independent and the lone Rah-i-Haq Party MPAs combined make 172 votes, and any eventual run-off poll could turn out to be a neck-and-neck contest as no party can now poach lawmakers from other parties.

PML-N Punjab secretary general Awais Leghari has asked President Dr Arif Alvi to play his role to end the constitutional crisis in Punjab and appoint a governor so that a provincial cabinet could be formed. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had already sent a summary to the president nominating party loyalist Balighur Rehman from Bahawalpur for the governor’s slot, but President Alvi was not accepting it.

Meanwhile, in a media talk here, former federal minister Fawad Chaudhry of the PTI said that after the SC’s verdict no government existed in Punjab. “The PTI has decided in principle to file a petition in court to oust Hamza in light of the apex court’s decision,” he said, adding that despite losing the votes of 26 PTI lotas (turncoats), the PTI-PML-Q still had a majority in the Punjab Assembly with 173 votes, while the PML-N had 172.

“The SC’s verdict in the Mustafa Impex case has decided that a government in a province comprises a chief minister and the cabinet. The CM alone cannot take administrative and financial decisions, thus there is no government in Punjab at the moment and any such decision by Hamza is against the law,” he maintained.

Mr Chaudhry said President Alvi might ask PM Shehbaz to take a vote of confidence, as the latter did not have the required support of 172 lawmakers in the National Assembly. To a question, he said: “The PTI is willing to hold talks with the government over the electoral reforms provided it announces a date for fresh elections,” he said.

PTI-PML-Q meeting

Meanwhile, the PTI’s Punjab leaders Sibtain Khan, Dr Murad Raas, Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht and Syed Alamdar Abbas called on Punjab Assembly Speaker Parvez Elahi and former federal minister Moonis Elahi of the PML-Q at their residence here on Wednesday and discussed a joint strategy to oust CM Hamza.

A statement issued after the meeting said: “The fake government of Hamza Shehbaz has come to an end after the decision of the SC. At present, the status of Hamza in the chief minister’s house is nothing, but that of an occupant.”

The meeting also demanded Hamza vacate the CM office immediately.

In a series of tweets, Moonis Elahi said: “We (PTI-PML-Q MPAs) are 173 to start with. Insha’Allah when total count (in run-off CM election) is done we will be much more than 173.

Add five as three women and two minorities seats will be filled again.”

In reply to a journalist’s tweet, he further claimed the PTI-PML-Q had not boycotted the CM election on April 16. “As you know this election is done through division of the House. Since the ayes side where PTI’s members’ going was blocked by police and they couldn’t enter. Hence they couldn’t vote,” he added.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2022

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