Reports claim Punjab CM is against dissolving provincial assembly

After days of hectic politicking, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance on Monday sprang its own trap to limit the options available to Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi ahead of the Imran Khan-announced dissolution of the provincial assembly, which is supposed to happen this Friday.

In a double-edged move, Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman has asked the chief minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday (tomorrow), while PML-N and PPP lawmakers have submitted a separate no-trust resolution against him in a bid to bar him from dissolving the assembly.

The move followed a meeting of party leaders from the PDM coalition, chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Under the law, the chief minister cannot dissolve the assembly if a no-confidence motion has been moved against him, while the governor’s requirement for the CM to seek a vote of confidence from the house means he has to ensure that he manages to secure 186 votes on Wednesday.

The PTI has 177 while the PML-Q has 10 members in the Punjab Assembly. On the other hand, the opposition boasts a combined 176 members from the PML-N, PPP and Rah-i-Haq parties.

Although the PML-N had claimed that it would hold elections if the PTI dissolved both assemblies, fresh elections have never been in its scheme of things, and even on Monday, senior alliance leaders met to discuss options to keep the provincial legislature intact.

After their meeting over the weekend, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s faction of the PML-Q continued their contacts on Monday.

THE MISSIVE: According to a notification issued late on Monday night, the governor has summoned session of the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday at 4pm, and has required the chief minister to obtain a vote of confidence in terms of Article 130(7) of the Constitution.

In his order, the governor said CM Elahi has lost the confidence of his party president Chaudhry Shujaat and his own party MPAs. “It is widely known that over the last few weeks, serious differences of opinion have erupted between the two coalition parties – PTI and PML-Q – regarding political strategies, dissolution of assembly, development schemes and transfers of public officials.”

The order also cited differences between the coalition partners over inclusion of Khayal Ahmad of PTI in the provincial cabinet and resignation of provincial minister Sardar Hasnain Bahadur Dreshak.

The governor also cited Parvez Elahi’s Dec 4 statement that he was not going to dissolve the PA until March 2023 – “a position which is completely at odds with the PTI’s public position on the issue and it led to resignation of two PTI MPAs in protest.”

THE MOTION: Many observers were also surprised by the ease with which PML-N and PPP lawmakers submitted a no-trust motion in the PA against CM Elahi, which was in sharp contrast to the official wrangling that characterised no-trust votes moved earlier this year against the deputy speaker and Mr Elahi.

This has fueled speculation that the Elahi faction may be trying to reach a settlement with the PDM coalition.

Talking to reporters after submitting the no-confidence motion, PM’s Special Assistant on Interior Attaullah Tarar said that no-trust resolutions had also been submitted against the Punjab Assembly speaker and deputy speaker.

PPP lawmaker Hasan Murtaza said they would know “in a day or two” whether Parvez Elahi remains CM or is replaced by someone else.

“Mr Zardari knows the art of making the impossible possible. Soon the people will hear good news,” he said.

PM SHEHBAZ MEETINGS: The premier met with cabinet members from Chaudhry Shujaat’s faction, and was told that he would receive an update on the outcome of their talks with Parvez Elahi by Wednesday (tomorrow).

“PM Shehbaz discussed the prospects of CM Elahi to join hands with the PDM with PML-Q ministers Salik Hussain and Tariq Bashir Cheema. They told the premier that the outcome of Chaudhry Shujaat’s talks with Mr Elahi would come to the fore by Wednesday,” a PML-N insider told Dawn.

The ‘Q’ ministers reportedly said that all was not well between the PTI and Parvez Elahi and that the CM’s interview, which was critical of Imran Khan for his ‘hard stance’ on the former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, had created several misgivings.

“Chaudhry Shujaat has been in contact with Mr Elahi and it will be known soon whether the latter is interested in cutting a deal with the PDM,” the insider quoted the ministers as having said.

“Although it is not easy to bridge the gulf between the Sharifs and Mr Elahi, political compulsions can make both parties flexible,” he said.

The meeting was also attended by PML-N ministers Ahsan Iqbal and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the premier’s special assistants Attauallh Tarar and Malik Ahmad Khan, MPAs Azma Bokhari and Rana Mashhood and former minister Zahid Hamid.

ZARDARI’S MOVE: Asif Zardari, meanwhile, chaired a meeting of PPP’s parliamentary party in the provincial assembly on Monday and took them on board over his discussions with PM Shehbaz and Chaudhry Shujaat.

The PPP huddle reviewed the political scenario in Punjab and the options available to strengthen the democratic system in the country.

Earlier, Salik Hussain, the federal minister and a son of Chaudhry Shujaat, called on Mr Zardari at Bilawal House in Bahria Town and conveyed to him a message from his father. The one-on-one meeting lasted for about 45 minutes.

Sources privy to the meeting said that it was here that the g0-ahead was given for filing a no-trust motion against CM Elahi in the provincial assembly.

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