• Justice Ahsan notes as per ‘democratic traditions’, a party’s parliamentary leader decides who should be supported in a poll in assembly
• Bench says AG, Mazari’s counsel unable to defend impugned ruling

LAHORE: The Supreme Court on Saturday provisionally allowed Hamza Shehbaz to continue as a “trustee” chief minister of Punjab with limited powers, as it observed that the ruling of the Punjab Assembly’s deputy speaker regarding rejection of votes of all Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) lawmakers in the run-off election for the CM was prima facie in violation of the court’s judgement and Article 63-A of the Constitution.

A three-judge bench of the SC, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, assembled at the court’s Lahore registry at 11am to take up a petition hurriedly filed on Friday midnight by Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, a candidate for the CM’s office against Hamza, against the ruling of Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari. Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar were the other members of the bench.

At the outset of the hearing, PTI senator Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, on behalf of Mr Elahi, explained to the bench the CM’s election held in light of the Supreme Court’s judgement passed on July 1 interpreting Article 63A of the Constitution on a presidential reference. The counsel also read out the ruling of the deputy speaker to the bench.

CJP Bandial observed that the views expressed by Mr Mazari, while giving the impugned ruling, did not pinpoint to the exact observation made by the SC in its judgement. He further observed that the issue more likely seemed to be a controversy regarding the proper understanding or comprehension of the statement of law in the judgement rather than an interpretation of a constitutional provision.

Before rising for a break, the bench sought personal appearance of the deputy speaker along with the record of the election proceedings. The bench also issued notices to the chief minister, Punjab advocate general and an additional attorney general, as it was told that Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Asuaf Ali was out of the country.

However, when the bench resumed its hearing at 2:30pm, senior advocate Irfan Qadir appeared on behalf of the deputy speaker. The counsel argued that Mazari might have understood that the leader of a political party was considered its parliamentary leader as well.

Mr Qadir said he had been engaged only two hours ago and needed time to seek further instructions from his client to prepare his brief.

The bench, however, observed that the deputy speaker was apparently mistaken in his understanding.

Justice Ahsan noted that according to democratic traditions, a parliamentary leader of a party decided as to who should be supported in an election in the assembly. The party’s head could only initiate a disqualification process against its members for deviating from the instructions of the parliamentary leader of the party, he added.

In its written order of the hearing, the bench observed: “To our mind the constitutional provisions and our interpretation thereof in paragraph-3 of the short judgement, are clear in treating the direction of the parliamentary party to be binding on members of the parliamentary party in the case where vote is to be cast, inter alia, for election to the office of chief minister.”

However, it said, the deputy speaker treated the direction by the party head to be binding on the legislators in the case of an election of the CM in terms of Article 63A.

Punjab Advocate General (AG) Shahzad Shaukat argued that the matter should be clubbed with the already pending appeals of the MPAs de-seated for defecting in the previous election for the chief minister held on April 16.

The bench said the AG and the deputy speaker’s counsel were not able to defend the impugned ruling, while the counsel for the chief minister did not come forward to answer the queries either.

The bench observed that the respondents’ counsel were unable to justify the impugned ruling of the deputy speaker, therefore, the status of the chief minister was under a cloud. In such a situation, Hamza Shehbaz could not be deemed a duly elected chief minister under the Constitution, it added.

However, the bench allowed Hamza to perform his duties as a “trustee” holding the office of the CM till a decision in the matter, and his cabinet would exercise the powers and functions strictly in fiduciary capacity as envisaged in the Constitution.

The bench granted time to the lawyers of the respondents to file written replies to the petition by July 25 along with a record of the election process. It also summoned the letter of PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on the basis of which the deputy speaker passed the impugned ruling. The next hearing will be held in Islamabad on Monday.

The bench heard the arguments of the lawyers through a video link as courtroom No 1 was packed to capacity by leaders of the PML-Q and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in addition to the lawyers who had come to observe the proceedings.

‘Enough is enough’

Reacting to the court order, PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, in a strongly worded series of tweets, questioned the composition of the bench. She said particular decisions had been issued repeatedly by benches composed of the same judges under pressure from a particular political party. She wondered if the benches negated their own previously issued decisions apparently to benefit one side.

“Do not expect that we will bow down before such biased decisions. Enough is enough,” Ms Nawaz tweeted.

She further said the current political turmoil in the country was a result of a Supreme Court judgement wherein it was interpreted that votes cast of free will would not be counted.

“Now a new interpretation is being made only to benefit the blue-eyed who has already been benefited with the previous interpretation,” she said without naming former prime minister Imran Khan.

Moreover, PML-N secretary general and federal minister Ahsan Iqbal tweeted: “The way things are going, some people are asking whether the judiciary should be asked to take full responsibility for managing the economy & economic consequences of its decisions. The damage started with Panama Saga.”

In another tweet, he condemned the PTI for taking a U-turn by challenging the ruling of the deputy speaker before the court.

In the recent past, the PTI had taken a plea that a speaker’s ruling could not be challenged before courts, he said, referring to the ruling of the former deputy speaker of the National Assembly rejecting a vote of no-confidence against then prime minister Imran Khan.

Punjab minister Attaullah Tarar also said in a tweet that people were questioning the inclusion of Justice Ijazul Ahsan in every bench hearing cases related to the PML-N. “How can I answer this question?” he added.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2022

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