LHC fined Hamza Shehbaz-Punjab govt Rs100,000 each

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LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday fined Hamza Shehbaz and the Punjab government Rs100,000 each for not submitting their responses on petitions challenging the PML-N leader's election as the province's chief minister.

The court had issued notices to Hamza, Punjab chief secretary, Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Mohammad Mazari, Punjab governor's principal secretary and Punjab Assembly's secretary at the previous hearing.

Hamza was elected as the Punjab CM on April 16, during a provincial assembly session that was marred by mayhem. He received a total of 197 votes — 11 more than the required 186 — including from 25 dissident PTI MPAs that were crucial for his victory.

The PML-N leader faced several delays in assuming charge of the CM Office because of then Punjab governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema's refusal to administer him oath.

Hamza approached the LHC thrice, seeking directions for his oath to be administered. He was finally sworn in on April 30, by National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.

During the open court hearing today, LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti said that adhering to court orders was mandatory for everyone in every situation and, hence, fined the respondents.

During the proceedings, the additional advocate general and Hamza's counsel requested the court to grant them time to submit the responses.

Here, PML-Q's lawyer objected that the matter shouldn't be delayed any further, contending that Punjab was functioning without a cabinet and the province was undergoing a constitutional crisis.

Justice Bhatti, however, said that the case couldn't proceed without listening to the arguments of the respondents. "Once the responses are submitted, we will hear the case on a daily basis," he added.

The hearing was then adjourned till May 30.

The PTI petition was filed by MPAs Mohammad Sibtain Khan, Zainab Umair, Mian Mohammad Aslam Iqbal, Syed Abbas Ali Shah and Ahsan Saleem Baryar.

It stated that the session held for conducting the election witnessed "immense chaos and most unfortunate events".

Deputy Speaker Mazari took "unlawful" aid from the police and provincial officials for holding a "sham and fraudulent" election, following which he communicated that Hamza had won, the petition said.

It noted that votes of 25 dissident PTI MPAs were also counted in the final tally for Hamza. While the then governor Cheema had refused to accept the election results, Hamza was administered the oath due to "judicial overreach", it contended.

"As per the investigation conducted by the [then] honourable governor of Punjab, the respondent secretary of the provincial assembly has tendered a report detailing the various dimensions of the election held on 16.04.2022 and has categorically informed the [then] honourable governor that the referred elections were/are unlawful; thus consequently the certificate issued by the respondent deputy speaker/acting speaker was/is without any lawful sanction/legal authority," the petition reads.

According to the petition, Hamza's election was in violation of the Constitution and the Rules of Business of the Punjab Assembly. It recalled that Hamza had approached the LHC for holding the election, adding that he treated it as an urgent matter because he had the support of 25 dissident PTI MPAs, which was a violation of Article 63 of the Constitution.

An analysis of the Supreme Court's interpretation would lead to the conclusion that the chief minister's election was unlawful, it stated.

"On this ground alone and keeping in view the scope and intent behind Article 63-A of the Constitution, the election held on 16.04.2022 [should] be declared as being without lawful authority and consequently be struck down."

The petition also claimed that the election had lost its sanctity because the assembly floor was occupied like a "beehive by private unwanted persons, including civilians, ghundas (thugs), guests, persons of various agencies and local police".

In addition, voters had been intimidated and forced to cast their votes in Hamza's favour, it stated.

The petition also stated that members who were going to vote for PTI-PML-Q's candidate Chaudhry Parvez Elahi were "pushed out" from the gallery and therefore, could not participate in the election.

The petition requested the LHC to declare Hamza's election void ab initio (illegal) "in the interest of justice and fair play".

It also requested the court to declare the office of the chief minister vacant and stop Hamza from working and portraying himself as the chief executive.

Therefore, the April 16 election, its results and the certificate issued by the Punjab Assembly deputy speaker to Hamza declaring his victory had "no legal effect", the petition stated.

The petition requested the high court to declare "all consequential actions taken by [Hamza] in his purported capacity as the chief minister Punjab and all and any other communications made, orders passed and notifications issued etc., consequential upon the declaration of the afore-mentioned result and issuing the set certificate ... to be null and void".

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