• PTI, PML-Q agree with Hamza continuing in office until by-polls
• Justice Mandokhel observes politicians should resolve their differences in parliament
• Both contenders laud CJP’s decision

ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: Clearing the air about who gets to rule Punjab, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered a run-off election for the office of the chief minister on July 22, after by-elections on 20 general seats are held, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) notifies five PTI candidates on reserved seats and some provincial lawmakers return after performing haj.

However, until then, Hamza Shehbaz will continue to hold the chief executive’s office; he also assured a three-judge Supreme Court bench he would remain within the confines of the Constitution and the law and avoid harassment or witch-hunt of political opponents.

Both Hamza and his opponent, Parvez Elahi, lauded the chief justice of Pakistan for coming up with a consensus decision.

The order came following the hearing, which commenced at 1:30pm and concluded at 5:40pm, wherein the court ordered the presiding officer not to hold the scheduled election for the Punjab CM and summoned both Chief Minister Hamza and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi to the

Lahore registry of the apex court. Both leaders as well as the PTI parliamentary party head in the Punjab Assembly, Mehmoodur Rashid, concurred with the direction. The written order is expected on Saturday (today).

The bench at the principal seat of Islamabad, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, had taken up a hurriedly moved petition by Punjab Assembly Opposition Leader Sibtain Khan, challenging the June 30 LHC order for a recount of votes on July 1, cast in the April 16 election for the Punjab CM’s office.

In the petition, Sibtain Khan urged the Supreme Court to amend or modify the LHC order by providing sufficient time to hold the session and enable the MPAs to participate in the proceedings so they can vote in the chief minister’s election, and remove Hamza from the office pending the election process.

Representing the petitioner, Advocate Babar Awan and Chaudhry Faisal Hussain sought instructions from PTI chairman Imran Khan before presenting a ‘wish list’ before the court, stating that the party had no objection if Hamza continued as caretaker until July 17, when the by-elections would be held.

Babar Awan said the PTI chairman had requested directions to the Punjab police chief, provincial election commissioner and chief secretary to act in accordance with the law and that during the incumbent period, the CM didn’t announce or release development funds in the constituencies where elections were being held.

Earlier, during the hearing, Mr Awan categorically told the court that his party will never accept Hamza as the CM. But the tables turned when PTI parliamentary leader Mahmoodur Rashid conceded to what Parvez Elahi and Hamza were suggesting.

When Hamza was asked by the court point blank, he said he did not intend to harass anyone, saying he was a political worker and during his 22-year struggle he had suffered incarceration and that he was even ready to contest the election tomorrow, since he had the required numbers.

During the hearing, the court also made it clear that if no consensus was reached, it would order a run-off-poll on Saturday (today) or maximum by Sunday.

PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry requested the court to set aside the April 30 notification announcing Hamza as CM, also suggesting rectification of the court’s sound system. But the CJP observed Mr Chaudhry was largely dependent on a microphone and writing letters, apparently hinting at political speeches and letters to the CJP on party directions. He also regretted that neither the court could respond to adverse comments nor did it intend to invoke contempt otherwise the former minister would have to appear before the court regularly.

CJP Bandial also appreciated how easily the bench had reached a solution to three months of political wrangling in just three sittings.

Justice Mandokhel observed that politicians should solve their differences within the confines of parliament instead of bringing such matters before the court, also conceding that the present controversy surfaced because of the apex court’s opinion on Article 63-A of the Constitution.

The CJP also regretted the greatest injury to democratic norms was the absence of an opposition in the National Assembly whose presence was necessary to bring the system back on track. He also expressed delight when both the warring parties reached a consensus and described it as the dawn of an era where people’s interests would take precedence over everything.

Praises for the apex court

Meanwhile, both CM candidates, Hamza and Elahi, lauded the CJP for the ‘mutually consented decision’.

Speaking to the media, the Punjab Assembly speaker hailed CJP Bandial for amicably resolving a prolonged political crisis in the province. He said the CJP had asked him to ensure cordial relations and smooth assembly proceedings on election day.

Mr Elahi asserted an affable atmosphere in the assembly would help strengthen democracy and regain respect for politicians. He further maintained the court had settled there would be no police interference or any kind of victimization, and the election held after the five reserved seats of PTI and winners of the July 17 by-election were notified.

Incumbent CM Hamza Shehbaz said he was confident he was leading in the numbers and would continue to remain ahead after the by-elections with the support of the people of Punjab. “I told the court I will accept the masses’ decision on July 17 and the house’s decision on July 22,” he stated.

Answering a question, he said the judges, media and the public would witness that his opponent had agreed the July 22 election would be held smoothly and its results accepted. He said the PML-N did not harass anyone, but the nation knew who gave a thumbs-up when the deputy speaker was attacked at the speaker’s rostrum.

To another question, Hamza said the PML-N government in the Centre was taking tough decisions not to save its rule, but to save Pakistan’s economy that was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2022

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