Impact on Punjab

Published May 19, 2022

THE Supreme Court judgement interpreting the issue of disqualification of parliamentarians under Article 63A of the Constitution has raised more questions around the ‘legitimacy’ of Hamza Shehbaz’s election as the chief minister of Punjab. The court’s declaration that votes cast by lawmakers in defiance of directions given by their parliamentary party (in the election of the prime minister and the chief minister or in a vote of no-confidence or vote of confidence) ‘cannot be counted and must (therefore) be disregarded’ has pushed the country’s most populous province into a deeper crisis. Most constitutional lawyers say Hamza has ceased to be the province’s chief executive because the votes of 26 dissident PTI lawmakers who had voted for him on April 16 stand uncounted after the court’s judgement. That means he has lost the simple majority in the House and a new election ought to be held to elect a new chief minister. Nonetheless, some are of the view that the decision would have a ‘prospective’ and not a ‘retrospective’ effect; hence, he is ‘safe’ unless the court says otherwise. Still, the future of Hamza’s almost three-week old administration in effect hangs in the balance for now, with the PTI planning to file a petition with the top court to seek its removal. The incumbent’s entire case hangs on establishing before the court that the defecting PTI MPAs hadn’t received directions from their party to vote for his rival, a question on which the ECP was expected to give its decision yesterday, but postponed the announcement.

Punjab is in the midst of a profound crisis of governance for almost seven weeks now. The incumbent chief minister is waiting — rather struggling — to put together his cabinet; the president has refused to accept the dismissal of the PTI governor by the federal government and appoint his successor. Separately, two no-confidence motions are pending against the Punjab Assembly speaker and deputy speaker. Both PML-N and PTI are awaiting the ECP’s decision on the PTI defectors’ fate, insisting on their own interpretation of the law and lobbing legal challenges at each other. Little wonder the province’s administrative machinery is virtually paralysed because of lack of decision-making by the political authority. The apex court’s interpretation of Article 63A and the ECP decision to withhold announcement of its verdict on defections will likely make matters worse rather than bring stability and clarity to the chaotic political and administrative situation.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2022

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