Punjab governor logjam continues as Alvi tells Shehbaz that Cheema still holds office

Published May 21, 2022
A combination photo of President Dr Arif Alvi, Punjab Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. — DawnNewsTV/AFP
A combination photo of President Dr Arif Alvi, Punjab Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. — DawnNewsTV/AFP

President Arif Alvi has asked Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to reconsider his advice to the former about the appointment of a new Punjab governor, maintaining that Omar Cheema, who was removed from the post on May 9, still holds the office and "there is no occasion to propose a new appointment".

According to a statement issued by the President's Secretariat on Saturday, Alvi referred to an earlier communication to the prime minister, dated May 9, in which he had rejected the PM's advice for removing Cheema from office, stating that "the Governor shall hold office during the pleasure of the President", as envisaged by Article 101 (2) of the Constitution.

However, Cheema was removed hours later, with a late night notification of the Cabinet Division stating that he had ceased to hold office on the advice of the prime minister sent to the president on two occasions.

In today's communication, the president reiterated this stance and said that "the present circumstances demanded that the incumbent governor should continue to hold that position".

The president also referred to a letter that Cheema had written to him on April 23, and a report dated May 4. Both these documents, he said, highlighted the change in loyalties during the election of the Punjab chief minister on April 16 — where Hamza Shehbaz garnered majority votes with 25 dissident PTI lawmakers throwing their support behind him — and "cobbling of the majority by illegal means" which had generated "serious governance issues in the province, as well as violated Article 63-A of the Constitution".

Article 63-A pertains to the disqualification of lawmakers on the basis of defection and in a recent ruling on a presidential reference, the Supreme Court said the votes of defecting lawmakers would not be counted.

President Alvi referred to the ruling saying that it "vindicated" the "principled stand of the governor (Cheema)".

He added that Cheema's stance was further augmented by the May 20 decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which declared the defection and changing loyalties of 25 PTI lawmakers during the April 16 election the "worst form of betraying the electorate and party's policy".

The ECP had de-seated the said lawmakers on grounds of defection.

The president also highlighted this in his communication to the prime minister.

"In view of the above-mentioned facts, the president asked the Prime Minister to reconsider his advice with regards to the appointment of a new governor Punjab in accordance with Article 48 (1) of the Constitution," the President Secretariat's statement read.

Hamza's election and oath-taking

Cheema's removal as the Punjab governor followed a long-winded saga that centred on the election and subsequent oath-taking of Hamza Shehbaz as the province's chief minister.

Hamza was elected the province's chief executive on April 16, in a Punjab Assembly session marred by violence. His oath-taking, however, was delayed for weeks as Cheema refused to administer oath to him, casting aspersions on the validity of his election.

Subsequently, Hamza approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) several times — first on April 21 — and sought its intervention in the matter. The court had then directed President Alvi to appoint a representative to administer the oath in the absence of the governor.

But a delay by the president in following the court's directive saw Hamza approach the court again on April 25. This time, he had asked the LHC to instruct Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to administer oath to him, following which LHC Chief Justice Ameer Bhatti had directed 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 had sought the LHC's intervention for a third time on April 29. The court had then directed National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to administer the oath to Hamza, who was sworn in as the Punjab CM the very next day.

Hours before Hamza's oath-taking, Cheema had announced that he had rejected the resignation of Hamza's predecessor, Usman Buzdar — who had stepped down as the provincial chief executive on March 28 — declaring it "not constitutionally valid" as Buzdar had addressed his resignation to then-prime minister Imran Khan, but it was accepted by Cheema's predecessor Chaudhry Sarwar. Cheema had later gone on to call Hamza a "fake chief minister" and derided his oath-taking as "unconstitutional".

The PTI has also challenged Hamza's election in the LHC.

Moreover, the recent decision by the SC on Article 63-A and the ECP ruling de-seating 25 dissident PTI MPAs have also raised questions on the status of Hamza's election.

Summaries for Cheema's removal

This series of events, that had driven the the province towards a constitutional crisis, coincided with reports that the federal government, led by Hamza's father Shehbaz Sharif, was intending to remove Cheema from office.

Eventually, PM Shehbaz had sent a summary for Cheema's removal to the president on April 17, while Cheema had maintained that the prime minister did not have the authority to dismiss him and only the president could do so.

In that summary, PM Shehbaz had recommended the name of PPP’s Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood as the Punjab governor. However, when President Alvi had returned that summary after holding it for 15 days without a decision, the premier had re-endorsed the advice on May 1, asking for Cheema's removal and the appointment of a PML-N loyalist from Bahawalpur, Balighur Rehman, in his place.

The president, however, had also rejected the second summary and conveyed to the prime minister that the governor could not be removed without his approval and would continue to "hold office during the pleasure of the president” in accordance with clause 3 of Article 101 of the Constitution.

"He wrote that the incumbent governor cannot be removed as there was neither any allegation of misconduct nor conviction by any court of law or of any act committed by him contrary to the Constitution of Pakistan," a press release had said.

According to a Dawn report, the PTI camp believes the Constitution was clear in terms of Article 101(3) read with Article 48(2) that "the president shall act in his discretion in respect of any matter in respect of which he is empowered by the Constitution to do so".

Cheema had also relied on articles 101(3) and 48(2) that he has even referred to in several tweets, saying the automatic implementation of the prime minister’s advice takes effect after the period during which the president has to act on it has lapsed, but not in the case of the removal of a governor.

According to the Constitution, the president can hold a summary sent by the premier for 14 days without a decision. On the expiry of the period, the prime minister may re-endorse his advice in this respect and the president can hold his decision for another 10 days. After this period, the governor will stand removed and the prime minister is authorised to appoint a new governor.

While deadlock on the matter continued, Cheema was removed from office, with a late night notification of the Cabinet Division stating that Cheema has ceased to hold office on the advice of the prime minister sent to the president on April 17 and reinforced on May 1.

However, Cheema had rejected the notification, terming it "unconstitutional", while PTI chief Imran Khan had urged the SC to o take notice of what he described as a "blatant violation" of the Constitution and law in Punjab.

The notification added that the Punjab Assembly speaker shall perform the functions of the governor till the appointment of an incumbent, in accordance with the Article 104 of the Constitution. This development could have not only changed the situation at Governor House, but also in the Punjab Assembly as Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi would have had to vacate his office to take over as acting governor, and Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari was said to be inclined towards the PML-N.

However, in a later development, Elahi refused to become the acting governor. Dr Zain Ali, Elahi's spokesperson, had told Dawn.com at the time that the governor house's staff had arrived at the Punjab Assembly to get his signature on the summary but was sent back.

"The way the police have been deployed outside the Governor House, who would want to go there in these circumstances," the spokesperson had said.

The speaker and the deputy speaker are both facing no-confidence motions in the House.

Meanwhile, Cheema has sought his reinstatement and filed a petition before the Islamabad High Court, which has constituted a larger bench to hear the plea.

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