Salman Khan
Salman Khan

• Ruling, opposition parties hold meetings to devise strategies going forward
• Enjoying ‘numerical superiority’, Hamza ‘confident of another victory’
• Opposition objects to 24-hour notice for election in ‘incomplete house’

LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly’s marathon 40th session, that saw the controversial election for the chief minister on April 16, would resume its proceedings on Friday afternoon (today) for a do-over of the election of the chief executive, sending both treasury and opposition parties into late night huddles to devise their strategies for the ‘big day’.

Moreover, Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz is gladly going for a fresh election as he is confident he carries a ‘clear simple majority’.

The opposition PTI and PML-Q coalition, on the other hand, has decided not to participate in today’s election, maintaining their presence will validate the process.

A Lahore High Court larger bench decision to “resume” the 40th session of the assembly has aborted the 41st session separately called by the opposition and treasury at the Punjab Assembly building and Aiwan-i-Iqbal, respectively. The ruling coalition had also presented and passed the Punjab budget for fiscal 2022-23 at its session.

The 40th session had been earlier called by former Punjab governor Chaudhry Sarwar on April 2 to hold the chief minister’s election immediately after accepting the resignation tendered by former CM Usman Buzdar on April 1. The CM’s election was marred by a scuffle between women MPAs from both sides of the aisle after some PTI lawmakers (then in treasury) had chosen to sit with the then opposition PML-N. The session was adjourned by the deputy speaker for April 6, but the election could eventually take place on April 16 – which was boycotted by the PTI and PML-Q over the presence of heavy contingents of police on the assembly floor.

Now, the Punjab Assembly Secretariat has taken preventive measures and SOPs and instructed all members of the house not to bring guests and deposit their mobile phones and handbags with the security. The members have been asked to bring along their national identity and assembly cards for an unhindered entry to the house.

CM Hamza held a marathon meeting with PML-N MPAs, who have been lodged at a local hotel, and finalised a strategy to deal with the opposition and hold a smooth election on Friday. The PML-N chief whip said the ruling coalition enjoyed the support of 177 MPAs — most of them staying at the hotel.

Hamza is confident of being re-elected to the office as he had a clear simple majority. In case of a run-off election, the PML-N-led ruling coalition could claim a majority of nine votes because the PTI had not yet been offered the five reserved seats by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The PTI and PML-Q, however, are not interested in this ‘emergency’ election for the CM for three reasons — five reserved seats haven’t been notified, its six members are out of country including those performing Haj, and the house being incomplete until the by-elections on 20 general seats of the province scheduled for July 17. “When the Punjab Assembly is not complete, how can the all-important election for the chief minister be ordered on a 24-hour notice?” wondered the opposition leadership. PML-Q senior leader Moonis Elahi said both the opposition parties had decided against participating in the chief minister’s election because the Lahore High Court’s order was being challenged in the Supreme Court on Friday morning. The election was scheduled at 4pm.

“The PTI and PML-Q will not validate the chief minister’s election with their participation because we are approaching the Supreme Court against the LHC larger bench decision of holding the polls on an emergency basis within 24 hours and that too without removing Hamza Shehbaz from his ‘fake’ position,” Moonis told Dawn.

Party position

The current party position in the assembly suggests the PTI and PML-Q enjoyed a total strength of 168 members -- 158 PTI seats and 10 PML-Q. The PTI is also awaiting the notification of five reserved seats by the ECP.

The ruling coalition in Punjab has 177 members, including PML-N’s 165, PPP’s seven, Rah-i-Haq Party one and four independents.

Reacting to the LHC verdict, CM Hamza said he had always respected the judiciary and would do so now as well. Talking to some party MPAs in Model Town, Hamza said the constitutional crisis going on in Punjab for the last three months would fizzle out with the court’s Thursday judgement.

“I do not believe in doing politics for the sake of politics; it is rather public service. The objective of my life and politics is to ease the lives of people and remove their distress,” he emphasised, and added the opposition had pushed the province into a constitutional crisis for the sake of its ego.

Later in the evening, the chief minister hosted a dinner for 177 members of his coalition at a local hotel, where most of them are lodged, to devise a strategy for Friday’s recount or election of the provincial chief executive, as ordered by the court. The dinner meeting was going on until the filing of this report.

Earlier in the day, PML-Q Punjab president Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and PTI leader Basharat Raja addressed a joint press conference and questioned “fairness” of the court’s decision and denial of notification of five reserved seats despite court orders.

“The house is not complete since the ECP has scheduled by-elections on 20 general seats and it is bound to notify five PTI reserved seats,” Mr Elahi said, adding around six opposition MPAs had also proceeded for Haj. “The house should be completed and sufficient time given to hold the chief minister’s election in a free and fair manner.” “The LHC order is expecting us to contest elections with tied hands,” said Mr Elahi, who is also the Punjab Assembly speaker and the opposition’s joint candidate for the chief executive’s office.

Mr Elahi further said the court order carried various “lacunae” because it had allowed the deputy speaker to continue presiding over the chief minister’s election despite him being responsible for calling police on the assembly floor – for the first time in parliamentary history. “This is not acceptable and we have approached the Supreme Court,” he asserted.

Basharat Raja asked how his party could accept the court’s “validation and legal protection” to all of Hamza’s actions since April 16. He regretted the court was apparently trying to legitimise Hamza’s election. Mr Raja said both the PTI and PML-Q would hold another round of consultations on Friday morning and come up with their final strategy for the poll.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2022

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