• Submits written undertaking in court; tweets dissolution will go ahead as per Imran’s decision
• PML-N, PPP withdraw no-trust motion; see court-mandated delay as an ‘opportunity’

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday suspended Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman’s late-night order de-notifying the chief minister, restoring Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and his cabinet on the assurance that the provincial assembly will not be dissolved, at least until the next date of hearing — Jan 11.

The ruling coalition at the Centre, led by the PML-N, termed it a ‘temporary relief’ for CM Elahi, while the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its ally PML-Q insisted the Punjab Assem­bly would be dissolved at the end of the day even if the chief minister has to seek a vote of confidence from the house.

Governor Rehman sprang into action late on Thursday night and de-notified Mr Elahi as the Punjab chief minister for failing to seek a vote of confidence from the house as directed by him (governor) under Article 130(7) of the Constitution — in a bid to forestall PTI chief Imran Khan’s plan to dissolve the provincial assembly. The order was immediately called “illegal” by Mr Elahi, who had said he would move the court against it.

On Friday, a full bench headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh held a marathon hearing on a hurriedly filed petition by Elahi challenging his de-notification. Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabir and Justice Asim Hafeez were the other members on the bench.

At the outset of the hearing, Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, appearing on behalf of Mr Elahi, argued that the governor issued the impugned notification without lawful authority, as he could not ask the CM to seek a vote of confidence when the assembly was already in session as summoned by the speaker.

He said during a session summoned by the speaker, the governor could not call a new one unless the ongoing session was prorogued by the speaker. The counsel further argued that the governor’s order was not sustainable in the eyes of law, as a no-confidence motion filed by the opposition was pending before the assembly. He said the governor’s order would make the motion infructuous, undermining the right of the members against the chief minister.

Barrister Zafar pointed out that the chief minister did not avoid taking a vote of confidence, as the speaker was supposed to summon a session for the purpose. The rules required the governor to allow a reasonable request to the CM to seek a vote of trust from the house. However, he said, his client was asked to do so within two days.

Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh asked the counsel whether the grievance of the petitioner would stand addressed if a reasonable time was given for a vote of confidence.

Barrister Zafar said the governor was not competent to fix a time and date for a session on a vote of confidence, as it was the jurisdiction of the speaker.

“The petitioner’s only grievance is why he is being punished for a conflict between two other parties — the governor and speaker,” the counsel explained.

Justice Sheikh noted to the counsel that if the petitioner was restored to his office by the court he would probably dissolve the assembly and the petition in hand would also stand infructuous, causing a crisis in the province. He asked the counsel whether his client was ready to submit a written undertaking that the assembly would not be dissolved if the governor’s notification was suspended.

The bench allowed the counsel to consult his client on this point when he showed reluctance to tender any such undertaking. It observed that the interim relief sought by the petitioner was not possible without an assurance regarding dissolution of the assembly.

The bench resumed hearing after an hour’s break with Elahi’s counsel submitting a written undertaking that the assembly would not be dissolved if the court suspended the impugned notification of the governor.

PML-Q leader and Parvez Elahi’s son Moonis was also present in the court.

The undertaking filed by the chief minister stated that if the governor’s order was suspended and the CM and his cabinet restored, he would not advise the governor to dissolve the assembly till the next date of hearing.

Advocate Khalid Ishaq appeared on behalf of the governor and told the bench that Mr Rehman was ready to withdraw the impugned notification if the CM undertook to seek a vote of trust from the house within three to seven days. He also submitted that the petitioner should also undertake he would not dissolve the assembly within this period.

However, the bench observed that the court could not restrain the CM from dissolving the assembly. “We have to maintain a balance between both parties,” the bench observed.

After going through Elahi’s undertaking, the bench suspended the governor’s impugned notification and restored the CM and his cabinet till the next hearing of the case. It also issued notices to the attorney general for Pakistan and the advocate general of Punjab for their assistance on the questions raised in the petition.

The bench would resume its hearing after winter vacation on Jan 11. It also said its order would not preclude the petitioner from taking a vote of confidence on his own.

Earlier in the day, the full bench had dissolved due to recusal by one of its members. Later, the chief justice reconstituted the bench by replacing Justice Farooq Haider with Justice Asim Hafeez.

PA to be dissolved

After the court’s reprieve, Parvez Elahi was still adamant the decision to dissolve the assembly was final.

“PTI chief Imran Khan’s decision in this regard will be fully implemented. The imported government wants to run away from elections. We will present the imported government in the people’s court who make the final decision,” the reinstated CM tweeted.

Both Moonis and PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry also stressed the same. “We respect the judiciary. However, Mr Elahi will obtain a vote of confidence from the assembly and subsequently dissolve it the same day,” Moonis told reporters outside the LHC.

No-trust motion withdrawn

Earlier in the day, the main opposition parties in Punjab — PML-N and PPP — withdrew their no-confidence motion against CM Elahi. In their request to the Punjab Assembly speaker, the opposition lawmakers said: “As a consequence of the governor’s order, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi has ceased to be the chief minister of Punjab. Therefore, no further processing in pursuance of the subject notice dated Dec 19 is warranted. Thus, we withdraw the subject notice (submitting a no-trust motion to the CM) for having become infructuous.”

When the Punjab governor had ordered CM Elahi to obtain a vote of confidence last Wednesday, the PML-N and PPP MPAs had subsequently submitted a no-trust resolution against him in a bid to bar him from dissolving the assembly.

Under the law, a CM could not dissolve the assembly if a no-confidence motion had been moved against him.

“CM Elahi has got temporary relief but eventually he will have to take a vote of confidence from the Punjab Assembly… and that will be his real test,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a private TV channel.

Meanwhile, PML-N MPAs met at the Governor House on Friday before they joined the Punjab Assembly session. They were told by party leaders to ‘brace’ themselves for a change in Punjab.

MPA Rana Mashhood said the federal coalition did not want dissolution of either assembly because it wanted economic stability in the country.

“We have three options — option ‘A’ (seeking a vote of confidence from the CM) has been used and we will wait and see its outcome,” he commented.

Chance to woo ruling lawmakers

While all previous efforts of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari to coax Mr Elahi, and PTI and PML-Q lawmakers have not borne any fruit, the opposition in Punjab believes the reinstatement of the chief minister has given it some more time to try its luck.

“Mr Zardari, Chaudhry Shujaat and ‘some others’ have resumed their efforts to poach some birds from the PTI and PML-Q camps so that in case CM Elahi takes a trust vote they can stay away from the proceedings,” a PML-N leader from Punjab told Dawn on Friday.

“Although Mr Zardari failed in the ‘first round’, it is hoped that the PPP leader with the help of those who matter springs up a surprise,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2022

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