Amid political crisis in the Punjab, Governor Balighur Rehman administered oath to 37 new provincial ministers at Governor’s House Lahore on Sunday evening.
Previously, Hamza worked with just eight ministers, but this time around he had brought in a massive 41-member cabinet, apparently to appease all coalition partners. Among them four members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) did not take oath on Sunday.
The new Punjab cabinet comprises members from all the coalition partners in the province, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party and one member who got re-elected in recent by-elections.
The 37 ministers, who took oath, are:
Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan, Mehr Ijaz Ahmad, Siddique Khan Baloch, Muhammad Kazim Pirzada, Chaudhry Shafique, Malik Nadeem Kamran, Yawar Zaman, Col (retd) Ayub, Chaudhry Iqbal Gujjar, Mansha Ullah Butt, Tanvir Islam Sethi, Jehangir Khanzada, Rana Mashood Ahmad, Mian Mujtaba Shuja ur Rehman, Khawaja Imran Nazir, Bilal Yasin, Malik Saif ul Malock Khokhar, Fida Hussain Wattoo, Rana Ijaz, Azma Zahid Bukhari, Khalil Tahir Sindhu, Ghulam Qasim Hunjra, Rana Muhammad Tariq, Zaheer Iqbal, Zeshan Rafique, Sania Ashiq, Syed Hassan Murtaza, Syed Ali Haider Gillani, Bilal Asghar Warriach, Qasim Langah, Malik Asad Khokhar, Ahmad Ali Aulakh, Sibtain Bukhari, Saba Sadiq, Ashraf Ansari, Imran Khalid Butt and Rana Liaqat Ali.
The four, who did not take oath, are Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan, Sardar Awais Laghari, Khawaja Salman Raffique and Atta Muhammad Tarar. A party member said on the condition of anonymity that these four members might be waiting for the decision of court.
Besides the 41 ministers, according to an official announcement, the provincial cabinet would also include 12 political assistants to the chief minister with the status of minister, five special assistants and five advisers.
The decision to form the cabinet – on the eve of the hearing in the Supreme Court of the petition against the deputy speaker’s ruling – was taken after detailed deliberations among the top leadership of allied parties, including the PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif.
The top court is expected to announce its decision over a case filed against the ruling of Deputy Speaker Mazari, who rejected 10 votes of the PML-Quaid during the election of the chief minister on Friday, thereby allowing Hamza Shehbaz to retain the post.
Meanwhile, Hamza Shehbaz was conspicuous for his absence at the oath-taking ceremony. According to his party, he had left for Islamabad before the ceremony. However, his absence gave rise to rumours about “concerns” within the PML-N over the fate of his government.
The fate of the cabinet, along with that of Chief Minister Hamza, depended on the Supreme Court ruling. If the court decision goes awry for the PML-N on Monday (today), the ministers would not be able to see just one sunset in the government.
Some political pundits termed the move a blatant violation of the apex court’s direction. Punjab Assembly Speaker and Hamza’s rival for the post of Punjab chief minister, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, said that a “ship-sized cabinet is a gross violation of the Supreme Court’s order”.
“One member out of three has been made a minister. The oath of the Punjab cabinet is no less than a joke. The trustee chief minister has made a mockery of the Supreme Court order by doling out ministries,” he said, referring to the apex court order that Hamza would remain as trustee chief minister until Monday (today).
Elahi alleged that the “trustee chief minister” was spending Punjab’s money to save his power. “Even the swearing-in and the size of the cabinet cannot save these rulers, who are guilty of unconstitutional actions. This move should also be held in contempt of the court.”
However, the newly-inducted minister defended the cabinet formation, saying that Hamza Shehbaz was an elected chief minister and he was performing his duties as per law. They said that the government’s request for a larger bench would be accepted at the apex court.
Newly-inducted Minister Azma Bukhari said that the party had already made it clear that it would not accept a decision unless it came from a larger bench. “Hopefully, tomorrow our plea will be entertained.” She, however, did not disclose her party’s strategy, if the Supreme Court decision went against the party.
Another newly-inducted minister, who did not wish to be named, said that the PML-N knew full well that losing the government in Punjab meant losing the government at the Centre, so they have decided to go with all guns blazing.
According to some reports, the PML-N is expected to launch protests across Punjab if the apex court ruling went against them. The federal government, on request of the Punjab government, had already deployed around 4,000 personnel of Punjab Rangers in Lahore and Rawalpindi as there were apprehensions that the law and order situation might arise after the court decision.