LAHORE: After a 24-day tussle and an exchange of many a summary between the president and prime minister, Dr Arif Alvi finally relented and signed off on the appointment of PML-N loyalist Balighur Rehman as the governor of Punjab, also paving the way for the formation of a provincial cabinet that was on hold for around a month since the embattled chief minister took oath of office.
In a late-night development, eight lawmakers also took oath as members of the Punjab cabinet.
Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz has been running the provincial government all by himself for the last one month and his focus during the period was postings and transfers of civil and police bureaucracy rather than governance. In his short stint in office, Hamza has posted over 300 bureaucrats who have shown an inclination towards the party of the Sharifs, allegedly in consultation with his father — Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Both Hamza and his party, the PML-N, heaved a sigh of relief after Mr Rehman was administered the oath of office by Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Amir Bhatti at Governor House on Monday evening. The party can now conveniently fulfil its commitments with the four independent and one Rah-i-Haq MPAs by accommodating them in the cabinet and ensure they don’t switch sides in case of a run-off election for the chief minister.
Eight-member cabinet sworn in, more appointments expected in coming days
After the election commission’s decision to de-seat 25 PTI dissident MPAs over defection, Hamza has lost majority in the Punjab Assembly, and if a run-off election is held he may struggle to achieve the required number of 174 in the assembly.
President Alvi’s approval to Rehman’s appointment has come on the heels of a scrimmage between the two top constitutional offices — PM and president — that lasted for over three weeks.
The newly inducted governor, who belongs to Bahawalpur, was elected to the National Assembly in 2013 and has previously served as the federal education minister.
According to the PML-N, the president had to approve Rehman’s appointment after exhausting all legal ways to block the move. “Since only a day was left in completion of the constitutional period allowing the federal government to automatically notify the new governor, the president saved himself from further embarrassment and approved the summary,” a senior party leader from Punjab told Dawn on Monday.
While the PTI ranks believe the president should have stuck to the earlier policy of “giving tough time to the ruling coalition till the last ball”, there were rumours that ‘some’ quarters are actively trying to make the PTI leadership cooperate on important matters.
In a tweet, the President’s Office stated: “President Dr Arif Alvi has approved the appointment of Muhammad Baligur Rehman as Punjab governor based on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s advice in accordance with Article 101 (1) of the Constitution.”
Since ousted former governor Cheema had refused to administer the oath to Hamza’s cabinet, the province was facing serious administrative and financial issues. Even the PTI termed every administrative decision taken by Hamza illegal in the absence of a provincial cabinet.
Meanwhile, Mr Rehman faced National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) investigation in the case of illegal allotment of 14,400 kanal state land to 144 affectees of the Lal Sohanra National Park, Bahawalpur, in 2020.
Punjab cabinet formation
Immediately after the PML-N clinched the governor’s office, the party-led coalition in Punjab expedited the process of formation of a provincial cabinet and around midnight, the newly minted Mr Rehman administered the oath to eight members for starters. The remaining lawmakers to be inducted in the first phase are likely to take oath on Tuesday (today).
Those who took oath on Monday night were Rana Iqbal, Awais Leghari, Malik Ahmad Khan, Khwaja Salman Rafique, Atta Tarar and Bilal Ashgar of the PML-N and Hasan Murtaza and Ali Gilani of the allied PPP.
Earlier, a party insider had told Dawn that up to 25 members would be inducted in the first phase. “The PML-N is accommodating four independent and the lone Rah-i-Haq MPAs in the cabinet to make sure they stay loyal to it in case Hamza has to contest against PTI-PML-Q candidate Chaudhry Parvez Elahi in a run-off poll for the chief minister. Also part of the team will be six of the seven PPP lawmakers -- four ministers and two advisers,” he said, adding that PPP Punjab parliamentary leader Hasan Murtaza will be a senior minister.
The de-seated dissident MPAs of the PTI, including Aleem Khan, Asad Khokhar and Nauman Langrial, are looking to the PML-N leadership to accommodate them in some ways. Previously, the PML-N had planned to include over 50 per cent of the defecting PTI lawmakers in the cabinet.
From the PML-N’s side, more or less the same faces, which were earlier part of Shehbaz’s team in 2013-18, are expected to return to his son’s cabinet. Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, Azma Bokhari, Bilal Yasin, Khwaja Imran Nazir, Manshaullah Butt and Rana Mashhood were among those likely to take up cabinet positions.
In the presence of Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, who recently defeated a no-confidence motion against him filed by the PML-N, Hamza may face problems in smooth running of the House. Earlier, the Sharifs had promised PTI dissident Saeed Akbar Nawani the slot of the speaker.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2022