Lahore High Court (LHC) Justice Asim Hafeez remarked on Wednesday that it was compulsory for a chief minister to have round-the-clock support from a majority of lawmakers in the house.
He passed these remarks as a five-member bench comprising him, Justice Abid Aziz Shaikh, Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, and Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabir took up Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi’s plea challenging Governor Balighur Rehman’s orders to de-notify him as the provincial chief executive.
- Lahore High Court extends “interim relief” of reinstating Elahi as chief minister till Jan 12
- Court says chief minister can’t dissolve assembly until 9am tomorrow
- LHC judge observes CM must have round-the-clock support of a majority of assembly members
- Elahi rejects court’s offer of fixing a date for a vote of confidence
- PML-N asserts Elahi can’t “run away” from trust vote
- Elahi’s lawyer says governor’s order aimed at preventing assembly dissolution
Today’s hearing coincides with an ongoing Punjab Assembly session which has been marred by two consecutive days of protests from the opposition, who are demanding Elahi take the vote of confidence.
Last month, the Punjab governor denotified Elahi as chief minister of the largest province in a bid to forestall ousted premier Imran Khan’s plan to dissolve the Punjab Assembly.
In his order dated Dec 22, the governor had said that since the chief minister had refrained from taking a vote of confidence at the appointed day and time, he ceased to hold office. Rehman, however, had asked Elahi to continue working as chief minister until a successor takes charge.
Subsequently, Elahi approached the court, saying the move was “unconstitutional, unlawful and of no legal effect”.
At the previous hearing, the LHC had reinstated the PML-Q leader as the chief minister and restored the provincial cabinet as an “interim relief” after he submitted an undertaking assuring the court that he would not dissolve the provincial assembly until the next hearing (Jan 11).
During the hearing today, the court extended the relief granted to Elahi till Thursday (Jan 12), 9am.
It also said that the chief minister could not dissolve the assembly during this time.
Take vote of confidence or go home: PML-N tells Elahi
In a tweet after the court hearing, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that Elahi had no other option but to take a vote of confidence from the Punjab Assembly.
“We have 179 numbers in Punjab which can increase as well. But, you [the PTI and PML-Q] don’t have the 186 number. If you do, then Elahi should immediately take a trust vote — there is no other solution,” he said.
“I want to make it clear that they will have to take a vote of confidence anyway,” Sanaullah added.
Earlier in the day, PML-N lawmaker Atta Tarar had passed similar remarks. He said that the trust vote could not be “previewed”. “Only more time can be given […] but a vote of confidence is imminent,” he told reporters outside LHC.
Tarar also claimed that the chief minister wanted to travel abroad to meet his son Moonis. “But let me tell you […] we won’t let you run away from the vote of confidence. Either take it or go home.”
At the outset of the hearing today, Justice Shaikh remarked that the matter under discussion had not yet been solved.
“It will only reach a conclusion when they [the Punjab government] take the vote of confidence,” the governor’s lawyers said, adding that Elahi had a lot of time to take the trust vote after the previous hearing but he did not do it.
“This clearly shows their ill intention,” he stated and then requested the court to fix a date for the vote of confidence.
Here, Justice Shaikh turned to Elahi’s lawyer and asked: “How many days will be suitable for you to take the vote of confidence? We will fix a time accordingly and your problem will be solved.”
Elahi’s lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar pointed out that the PA speaker’s ruling against the governor’s orders of a no-trust vote had not yet been challenged.
“But the question is whether Elahi has the assembly’s support for the post of the chief minister,” the court said. “Is there no clarity yet on whether the vote of confidence should be taken or not?
Meanwhile, Justice Hafeez said that the chief minister should have the confidence of the majority of lawmakers round-the-clock.
The court then asked Elahi’s lawyer if his counsel was accepting the offer for the vote of confidence or not. Barrister Zafar replied that they had rejected the offer.
Subsequently, Justice Shaikh said that if a consensus could not be reached between the governor and the chief minister, then the case would be heard on “merit”.
“The matter has now gone beyond a reasonable time,” he remarked, adding that the court would have to look at the assembly dissolution, violation of the governor’s orders and the way forward.
Here, the hearing was put off for 30 minutes.
When the hearing resumed, Barrister Zafar started presenting his arguments in the case.
“If a majority of PTI’s Punjab lawmakers come to the governor and tell him that they have lost confidence in the CM, only then can a vote of confidence be called,” he said.
Zafar contended that the governor did not provide suitable reasons for the trust vote, adding that his client would have had no problem with the vote if a “legal and constitutional procedure” was adopted.
“If someone is trying to create a situation of instability [in the province], we will object to it,” he said, adding that five months back, Elahi had shown his majority in the PA.
He insisted that the Constitution only gave the chief minister the right to dissolve assemblies. “The CM sends an advisory to the governor and within 48 hours the assembly is dissolved.”
However, in this case, the governor instructed that a vote of confidence should be taken on Dec 19, Zafar pointed out. “His orders came after the opposition submitted a no-trust motion [against Elahi] in the PA.”
He further maintained that the entire “fiasco” was aimed at stopping the dissolution of the assembly.
“But what if the governor had directed to hold the confidence vote within 10 days,” Justice Shaikh asked here.
Subsequently, the hearing was adjourned till Jan 12.
PML-N orders maximum presence of MPAs in court
Earlier, a Dawn report said that the PML-N leadership has ordered the presence of the maximum number of its MPAs in the court during the hearing.
On the other hand, in a media talk on Tuesday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that the LHC was likely to issue a binding order for the chief minister to take a vote of trust as per the instructions of the governor.
“The court is likely to issue a binding order for the chief minister to take a vote of trust as per the instruction of the governor,” he told reporters.
The minister said the CM did not have the required number (186 members) to obtain the trust vote in the Punjab Assembly.
The petition, filed by Elahi, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, named the Punjab governor through his principal secretary, the government of Punjab through its chief secretary and the PA speaker as respondents.
The application was submitted through Barrister Ali Zafar and Advocate Amir Saeed.
It said that on December 19, Governor Rehman issued an order summoning a PA session and requiring the chief minister to seek a vote of confidence from the house.
“In response to the order, the PA speaker gave a ruling declaring the summoning of the session to be unconstitutional and adjourned the ongoing session till Dec 22.”
The petition stated that both of Rehman’s order — for the vote of confidence and the de-notification — was passed “without lawful authority and are of no legal effect”.
It reasoned that the governor’s order regarding summoning a PA session was illegal under the Constitution and Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab 1997.
“Without prejudice to the unconstitutionality of Respondent 1’s [the governor] act of summoning the session of Punjab Assembly during an already ongoing session, it is respectfully submitted that the governor neither the appointing authority of the petitioner nor has the power to remove the petitioner, and there is no constitutional provision enabling the Respondent No. 1 to pass the impugned order dated 22.12.2022 and declaring that the Petitioner ceases to hold his office of Chief Minister Punjab.”
The petition went on to say that Rehman’s order was “not sustainable because it has been passed due to grave misconstruction of the facts”.
It also highlighted that the de-notification order was “not sustainable as the resolution of vote of no confidence moved by the 20 percentum is pending before the Provincial Assembly, and the impugned order would make the resolution in-fructuous which would undermine the right of members of the Provincial Assembly regarding the vote of no confidence against the petitioner/Chief Minister”.
Subsequently, the petition prayed that the Punjab governor’s orders issued on Dec 19 and Dec 22 should be declared to be passed without any lawful authority and of no legal effect.
“It is further prayed that it may kindly be declared that the summoning of the session of the Punjab Assembly by the governor during an already ongoing session is unconstitutional, unlawful and of no legal effect,” it requested.
The petition pleads that the court should declare that there was no eventuality which lead to the conclusion that Elahi did not command the majority of the members of the provincial assembly.
“It is further prayed that it may kindly be declared that the Petitioner does not cease to hold his office of Chief Minister Punjab,” it stated, adding that the dissolution of the provincial cabinet should also be declared unlawful.
Crisis in Punjab
After Imran’s announcement of the assemblies’ dissolution, the coalition leaders sprung into action to prevent Elahi from dissolving the Punjab Assembly.
In a double-edged move on Dec 20, the Punjab governor asked the chief minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the Punjab Assembly, while PML-N and PPP lawmakers submitted a separate no-trust resolution against him in a bid to bar him from dissolving the assembly.
However, Punjab Assembly Speaker Sibtain Khan termed the governor’s orders as “illegal, against the provisions of the Constitution and thus stand disposed of”.
In his two-page ruling, the speaker maintained that the governor’s orders were not in accordance with Article 54(3) and Article 127. “The house is in session since Oct 23, 2022, and under Articles 54(3) and 127. No fresh session can be convened unless and until the current one ends,” the order read.
Subsequently, on Dec 21, the Punjab governor termed the speaker’s ruling “unconstitutional”.
In his order, the governor said under Article 130(7) of the Constitution that PA speaker’s ruling had no bearing on his order and termed it unconstitutional. The governor said the speaker’s ruling was also in violation of Rule 209 of the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab, 1997.
Lawyers reached by Dawn for their comments differed on the governor’s orders issued to the chief minister, they were unanimous that a legal battle appears to be the only way forward for the resolution of the current crisis in Punjab.
In a late-night move on Dec 23, the governor de-notified Elahi. In an order, he said: “Consequent to the facts that Ch. Parvez Elahi … refrained from obtaining the vote of confidence at 1600 hours yesterday (Wednesday), in line with an order under Article 130(7) of the Constitution … issued under my hand on Dec 19, 2022, in line with Rule 22(7) of the Rules of Procedure of provincial assembly of Punjab, 1997, and that he still has not done so even after the lapse of another 24 hours, I am satisfied that he does not command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Punjab Assembly, and therefore ceases to hold his office with immediate effect.”
As a result, “the provincial cabinet stands dissolved forthwith”, he said.
In terms of Article 133 of the Constitution, Elahi, “former Punjab CM, is hereby asked to continue to hold office until his successor enters upon the office of the chief minister”, the governor said.