Election farce

Published July 23, 2022

THE winner of the election for the Punjab chief executive seemed apparent on the final count — 186 votes in favour of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi of the PML-Q, 179 in favour of the PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz. Yet Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari’s bizarre decision to reject the PML-Q’s 10 votes from the final count completely upended the result, spoiling Chaudhry Pervaiz’s victory and handing the Punjab crown back to the PML-N.

The ruling will buy more time in power for Hamza Shehbaz, but it has only worsened the prevailing political instability. Article 63A is clear on the point that it is the parliamentary party, not the party head, that sets the party line on voting in the four specific scenarios outlined in the same article. However, since the deputy speaker has taken cover behind the Supreme Court’s recent decision on defections to dismiss the PML-Q parliamentary party’s decision, the court itself will now be expected to elucidate on its ruling on the matter.

Read: 'Court orders misconstrued': Legal experts weigh in on dramatic Punjab CM election

The election result capped a day full of drama. The inspector-general of Punjab Police was abruptly sacked and replaced hours before the voting took place. The Punjab Assembly went into session almost three hours behind schedule, with a row of policemen in plainclothes standing behind Mr Mazari throughout to provide him ‘protection’.

Then, moments before the proceedings finally began, the media began reporting a seismic split in the PML-Q’s senior leadership. Party scion Moonis Elahi told journalists that his uncle, Chaudhry Shujaat Husain, the party head of the PML-Q, had told party MPAs not to vote for his father Chaudhry Pervaiz. He was quoted as saying that a day earlier, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, speaking on behalf of the ruling alliance, had offered to make Chaudhry Pervaiz chief minister, but as the coalition’s candidate and not as the PTI’s. He said his father had rejected the offer, but matters quickly took a very different turn.

Even though the parliamentary party unanimously voted for Chaudhry Pervaiz, the debate over the legal consequences of Chaudhry Shujaat’s decision as head of the party overtook all other commentaries on the election. Mr Mazari’s eventual ruling simply confirmed that an outcome that had been least expected till hours before the election had suddenly become a reality.

The ruling coalition might be thankful for Mr Zardari’s late-night machinations, but they have done little to solve the multiple crises Pakistan is mired in. In fact, this episode will open another unneeded chapter for judicial intervention in the political domain. It also does not send an encouraging message to observers watching keenly from abroad, who hold the key to bailing the country out of the economic quagmire it is neck-deep in. The government’s plans for an economic turnaround will remain nigh impossible to execute, with the fate of its largest province still far from decided.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2022

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