• Treasury manages to secure magic number of ‘186’, opposition boycotts sitting over doubts on vote count
• Altercations, shouting matches witnessed as session extended past midnight
LAHORE: Extraordinary scenes were witnessed at the Punjab Assembly before Chief Minister Parvez Elahi managed to secure the confidence of 186 members, in a session that began on Wednesday and ended in the early hours of Thursday.
The unprecedented session, which was marred by a noisy opposition protest, saw lawmakers breaking furniture in frustration and shouting slogans to antagonise their opponents.
After taking the confidence vote, CM Elahi thanked his own party, Imran Khan and the PTI, his provincial cabinet and other lawmakers who helped him get over the line.
Even though Rana Sanauallah had earlier claimed that at least seven PTI MPAs were abroad as per travel records, two PTI MPAs, Amer Chandia from Rahim Yar Khan and Ammar Yasir from Chakwal, were transported to Lahore late on Wednesday night, enabling the ruling coalition to somehow touch the magical figure of 186.
The opposition, which had been creating a ruckus in the house since proceedings began at 5pm and demanding that the chief minister take a trust vote as per Dec 19 directive of the governor, boycotted the voting process alleging the speaker did not allow them to appoint polling agents for a ‘fair count’ of those who were voting for Mr Elahi.
Speaking to reporters outside the assembly in the early hours of Thursday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah — who witnessed proceedings from the gallery — said the treasury had maintained that the governor’s order was illegal and challenged it in court.
“Then how could they do this, after relaxing all the rules,” he said, referring to the late night vote of confidence.
Notwithstanding verbal assurances by Speaker Sibtain Khan to the contrary, the opposition had suspicions that CM Elahi would try to take a trust vote by ‘manipulating’ the number of supporting MPAs and stayed put in the house, which remained in session until midnight with two breaks – one for Maghrib prayers – that lasted for more than an hour during which PTI chairman addressed the ruling coalition’s parliamentary party through video link – and the other at 10pm for half an hour as dinner break.
The second break ended close to 12am, when Deputy Speaker Wasiq Qayyum resumed proceedings and announced putting off the same for 12:05am to meet the legal requirement of summoning a fresh sitting for the new day (Jan 12) and accordingly issuing a new agenda for the sitting.
Proceedings resumed in earnest at 1:20am, with the chief minister himself in attendance.
As soon as CM Elahi entered the house, the opposition resorted to chanting slogans of “dakoo”. The speaker had already summoned additional police security to maintain law and order in the house.
Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Ghulam Mahmood Dogar also reached the assembly building to oversee the security arrangements.
Provincial ministers Mian Aslam Iqbal and Raja Basharat began the trust vote process by moving a resolution for reposing confidence in CM Elahi.
The motion was carried with a majority vote amid opposition protests, which alleged that assembly secretary Inayatullah Lak manipulated the count of those supporting the resolution and those who opposed it.
Next, Speaker Sibtain Khan ordered the ringing of bells in the lobbies for five minutes so that all the MPAs reach the assembly hall, whose entrances had been sealed as per rules.
The speaker then directed those who wished to vote for Mr Elahi to file out of the chamber through the ‘Ayes’ door.
PML-N MPA Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan, on a point of order, said the chair was violating the rules by not circulating copies of the fresh agenda among members as well as the press gallery.
He also protested that the speaker had not appointed polling agents – both from the treasury and the opposition – for a fair count of the MPAs supporting Mr Elahi as CM and thus passing through the ‘Ayes’ gate.
As the speaker did not accept the opposition’s point of view, the latter resorted to raising anti-government and anti-Parvez Elahi slogans, tore down copies of the agenda and threw chairs towards the dais of Sibtain Khan, who was surrounded by a protective cordon of treasury members.
The opposition then boycotted the process and walked out of the house.
Before trust vote
Earlier in the day, the chair cut short the Question Hour when each mover from the opposition would call his question number as 186 (a reference to the minimum support the CM required in the trust vote to continue ruling the province) and would ask why the speaker was not asking Mr Elahi to abide by the Constitution by seeking a vote of confidence as per Dec 19 directive of the governor.
The speaker cautioned some opposition MPAs that they were becoming guilty of contempt of court by criticizing the Lahore High Court seized with the trust vote case.
Irritated by the constant chaos in the house, Minister Shahabuddin Sehar suggested that Speaker Sibtain Khan should suspend the membership of the rowdy opposition lawmakers for they were obstructing working of the assembly.
The chair repeatedly requested the opposition members to take their respective seats and be calm as their protest on the trust vote issue was registered and they had shown their ‘performance’ to their senior leadership.
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2023