LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: In the wake of the apex court’s verdict on a presidential reference regarding lawmakers’ defection, embattled Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz says he has no wish to cling to power and “will remain the CM as long as God wills”.

Speaking at his maiden news conference since assuming office last month, the PML-N leader targeted President Arif Alvi and former Punjab governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema for creating hurdles in his oath-taking and formation of his cabinet. “President Alvi is a national criminal as he violated the Constitution,” he maintained and rued that he had been working without a cabinet as neither Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi was taking over as the acting governor in the absence of one nor was President Alvi accepting the summary of the prime minister to appoint Balighur Rehman to the office.

Earlier, the PML-N had said that party loyalist Mr Rehman would become the governor on June 3 despite the president not endorsing the PM’s summary. The allies in the provincial government — PPP, independent MPAs and the PML-N lawmakers close to the Sharif family — are impatiently waiting for a new governor so they could become part of the cabinet. However, the Supreme Court’s Tuesday verdict has dealt a blow to 26 PTI defectors, including Aleem Khan, Asad Khokhar and those close to Jahangir Tareen, who were promised ministries by the Sharif family in exchange for their loyalties towards their party.

Unsure of his future, Hamza swiftly appointed at least 60 ‘favourite’ bureaucrats and police officers on key positions in the province during the last two days sensing elections around the corner.

Moonis says CM wants to rule all by himself; Marriyum warns PTI against violence during Islamabad march

Criticising former PM Imran Khan, CM Hamza mentioned the ousted premier’s ‘ATMs’ who supported him throughout his political career, but stopped short of elaborating on it realising that the same ‘ATMs’ were now on his side. The PML-N leadership used to refer to Aleem Khan and Jahangir Tareen as Imran Khan’s “ATMs” for pumping money into the party activities.

Lashing out at the PTI chairman, Hamza alleged Mr Khan was conspiring against the army to divide it. “Imran is attacking and defaming the institutions. He is not doing politics but creating anarchy in the country and the institutions should take notice of this,” he demanded. He was referring to Khan’s claim that army personnel would send their family members to his long march on the capital.

Moonis’s reaction

Reacting to the beleaguered chief minister’s presser, former federal minister Moonis Elahi of the PML-Q said the “fake CM” did not want a cabinet in Punjab as he wanted to rule all by himself. “Hamza wants to have all the power in his hands,” he said.

Mr Moonis said the arbitrary decisions about various departments without calling their meetings in the absence of a cabinet were proof of Hamza’s ambitions. “Another proof is that if he is really serious about the formation of a cabinet then he could have its members take the oath by someone else as he himself took oath from the National Assembly speaker,” he remarked, adding that the opposition would not allow this one-man show in Punjab.

He said after the SC’s decision, Hamza could not sit in the CM’s office.

PTI warned against violence

Meanwhile, the federal government’s spokesperson has categorically warned the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) against any violence during its planned long march on Islamabad.

“The law will take its course and the government has a zero-tolerance policy for such things,” Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said while addressing a press conference in the capital.

After informing the media about the measures taken by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to check the flight of dollar in the country and arrest its rising value, the minister shifted her focus to playing the traditional role of the government’s representative by attacking the political opposition.

She called former premier Imran Khan a liar and a fraud who she claimed was bent upon spreading anarchy in the country. “The country is facing all these economic woes only because of you. Why did you not dissolve the assemblies earlier and hold early elections?” she asked Mr Khan. “Now you are expressing concerns over high inflation and demanding fresh polls. Your entire drama of befooling the masses has ended now.”

The minister stressed that elections will be held on time, and that time will be decided by the government in consultations with the allies.

“You want to pressurise the institutions by defaming them in public gatherings, to get decisions in your favour,” she said while addressing the PTI chairman. “But you are forgetting that despite a dharna for more than a hundred days, you weren’t able to get a resignation from the then PM Nawaz Sharif.”

She claimed Imran Khan had proved to be a failure and was an expert in spreading anarchy and chaos. “But he will fail, and the government has a zero-tolerance policy against the abuse of law. We will not allow anyone to use force against the government,” the minister reiterated.

Responding to a question about the fate of the federal government in the context of a bleak future of the present Punjab Assembly, Ms Aurangzeb maintained the narrative developed by Imran Khan in his public gatherings was based on false information.

She further said the ouster of Mr Khan was totally legal, as not even one disgruntled PTI MNA voted for the no-confidence resolution.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2022

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