LHC instructed Parvez Elahi-Hamza Shahbaz to mutually finalize date for CM election

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LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday instructed Punjab Assembly speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Mazari and Leader of the Opposition in PA Hamza Shahbaz to mutually finalise a date for the election of the chief minister.

"All of them should sit in the office of the Punjab advocate-general and solve the matter amicably," Justice Amir Bhatti said. "Remember that we are all residents of this country. Don't create a scene outside. Solve the problem at home, together."

His remarks had come as the court took up Hamza's petition which had sought its help in holding elections for Punjab's new chief minister in a "fair and transparent" manner. Earlier, the LHC CJ had clubbed Elahi's petition in the case as well, which had accused the PML-N leader of holding MPAs hostage.

During the hearing, referring to the April 3 PA session, the judge remarked that the question in front of the court was whether an assembly sitting to elect the CM could be adjourned. "We have to ask relevant authorities about the process of the CM election."

In his arguments, PML-N's counsel Azam Nazeer Tarar said that the post of Punjab CM had been empty since the resignation of Usman Buzdar. "Right now, the province doesn't have an executive," he said.

Consequently, the judge directed the PA secretary to brief the court about the election record.

He replied that after Buzdar's resignation on April 1, the process of election started the next day. "On April 2, the scrutiny [of candidates] was completed and nomination papers were accepted as well."

On April 3, the secretary continued, a session led by Mazari was called, but it was adjourned till April 6 after a fight broke out between the women MPAs inside the assembly hall.

"Do you have a video of the fight," the LHC CJ asked.

The secretary replied in the affirmative and continued that on April 4 he had sent a report on the damages inside the PA to the speaker who then further adjourned the session.

"But on April 6, a notification issued by Mazari started doing rounds on social media. It said that a session was being called in the evening," he said, adding that the Assembly Secretariat wasn't informed about it despite repeated calls to the deputy speaker.

Consequently, he added, the speaker striped Mazari of his powers.

Here, Justice Bhatti asked the reason behind the speaker's actions. "You didn't receive the notification ... This means no process was to take place."

The secretary replied that later a no-confidence motion had been moved against the deputy speaker. "When this happens, the deputy speaker can't chair the session."

The judge asked again whether it was legally possible to postpone the election for the chief minister. "Apparently, it isn't allowed," he observed and then wondered if nomination papers could be submitted a day before the poll.

Ali Zafar, counsel of PML-Q, revealed that the papers could be submitted any day before the election.

But the LHC CJ said that the rules "mention hours not days". He also asked if the speaker had the right to suspend the deputy speaker's powers if the former was contesting elections.

"The main question is that under what law was the date of election changed," he said. "How can someone violate the election schedule and give a date of their own?"

For his part, Zafar said that the court could not intervene in the matters of the assembly. "The issue was brought up in the Supreme Court but no order was passed," he added.

Consequently, Punjab Advocate-General Ahmed Owais took the rostrum. "I had said [in the SC] that no one could exceed the powers in the law."

But the PML-N counsel contended that the apex court had said that it was a provincial matter and should be taken to the high court.

Here, the advocate-general brought up PML-N's mock assembly session at a private hotel in Lahore but Nazeer argued that the meeting was just "symbolic". "There was not even a peon of the assembly there," he added.

'Voting should be held as soon as possible'
After the arguments, Justice Bhatti observed that election rules were formed for a reason. "You can't follow or break the rules whenever you want to," he said, adding that even the SC had ruled that the no-confidence movement couldn't be extended.

"It had emphasised that voting should be held," the LHC CJ recalled and reiterated that the assembly had no other option than to follow the rules.

He also asked why the election had to be delayed till April 16. "There's no reason to extend this. Hold the voting in a day or two. Hold it as soon as possible."

The judge, consequently, adjourned the hearing till 2pm and instructed all the respondents to chalk out a plan on the election together and present it in the court.

The Punjab Assembly has to elect the new leader of the house after Usman Buzdar resigned last month. PML-Q's Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and PML-N's Hamza, who has secured the support of PTI's dissident lawmakers — the Jahangir Khan Tarin and Aleem Khan groups — are expected to go head to head in the race to become the next chief minister.

To be elected as chief minister, a candidate will need at least 186 votes in the 371-member house.

In the Punjab Assembly, the PTI has 183 lawmakers, PML-Q 10, PML-N 165, PPP seven, five are independent and one belongs to Rah-i-Haq.

The decisive factor in the election will be the support of the Jahangir Tarin group, which is said to have the votes of at least 16 MPAs.

On Thursday, the opposition submitted a no-confidence motion against Elahi, who is also the PA speaker, further squeezing space for the provincial government to play its cards.

After the apex court’s decision on Thursday, where it nullified the National Assembly deputy speaker’s ruling on the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, the ruling coalition in Punjab has once again warned its MPAs against voting for Hamza or they would be de-seated.

In the National Assembly, the joint opposition did not need the dissident PTI MNAs to oust PM Imran as it had the required numbers, including the support of the former government’s allies. But in the PA, the opposition needs the backing of a good number of PTI dissenters to install its chief minister.

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