The election for the new chief minister of Punjab will be held today (Saturday) at the provincial assembly in Lahore at 11:30 am.

Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari will preside over the session.

A tough competition is expected between the two candidates — Hamza Shehbaz and Pervaiz Elahi. PML-N leader Hamza is the candidate of a coalition of opposition parties while PML-Q’s Elahi has the support of the former ruling party in the center, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The April 16 session will be held in line with the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) order issued on Wednesdaywherein it rejected Hamza’s plea to hold the elections early and restored the powers of the deputy speaker.

The deputy speaker — whose powers were withdrawn last week — was asked by the court to hold the polls on April 16.

The chief minister’s office has been lying vacant for the last two weeks since former governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar — who was removed from his position last week — accepted Usman Buzdar’s resignation on April 1.

In a mock session of the assembly held in a local hotel on April 6, the opposition elected Hamza as the chief minister after the assembly building was sealed on the orders of Speaker Elahi.

At present, the ruling alliance in the Punjab has 183 members while the joint opposition enjoys the backing of 165.

SEPAKER ELIHI’S PLEA REJECTED: A Lahore High Court division bench on Friday directed Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari to conduct the election for the new chief minister of the province in a fair, transparent and impartial manner, rejecting the pleas of Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and his party PML-Q.

The bench further directed the deputy speaker to facilitate national/international observers, media persons, representatives of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, Free and Fair Election Network and other organisations during the election.

The bench comprising Justice Shujaat Ali Khan and Justice Jawad Hassan ordered the Punjab chief secretary and inspector general of police (IGP) to ensure foolproof security for the election day (today).

The speaker and the PML-Q had challenged a decision of a single bench whereby the judge superimposed the condition that the deputy speaker shall preside over the chair despite the fact that he had himself approached the court seeking permission to conduct the election of the chief minister. They had also argued that there was a no-confidence motion pending against the deputy speaker.

However, the two-judge bench rejected the arguments of the appellants and upheld the decision of the single bench. In its 31-page judgement, it observed that since the speaker was unable to preside over the assembly proceedings due to him contesting for the post of chief minister, the deputy speaker shall exercise the powers of the speaker in terms of Section 53(3) of the Constitution for holding elections scheduled for April 16.

It observed that a bird’s eye view over the rules made it vividly clear that the question of conduct of the assembly session through the panel of chairmen only arises when the speaker or deputy speaker are not present. But during the presence of the deputy speaker, the matter cannot be referred to the panel of chairmen at the whims of the appellants, the bench added.

It remarked: “It is very strange to note that on the one hand the appellants are of the view that this court cannot intrude into the internal affairs of the assembly, but on the other they are pressing hard for passing an order in violation of the 1997 Rules.”

Rejecting another argument of the appellants, the bench stated that since the motion of no-confidence was not being considered against the deputy speaker in the assembly session scheduled for April 16, he could not be considered incompetent to preside over the said session.

With these observations the bench disposed of the appeals.

PTI MEMBERS NOT DETAINED: Separately, the Lahore city police on Friday told the LHC that no complaint had been received about the kidnap or detention of any MPA of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).

A report submitted before the court stated that the police’s deputy inspector general (operations) received no complaint about any parliamentarian. The court had sought a police report on a habeas corpus petition filed by PTI provincial minister Sibtain Khan for the “recovery” of PTI (reserved seats) MPAs Uzma Kardar, Ijaz Alam Augustine, Sajida Yousaf and Ayesha Chaudhry from the alleged illegal detention of opposition parties.

The police report revealed that MPAs Kardar and Augustine had been called on their mobile phones and they categorically denied any detention by anyone. It said the other two MPAs could not be contacted due to the paucity of time. But both Kardar and Augustine affirmed that Ms Yousaf and Ms Chaudhry were also not in any detention, the report added.

After going through the police report, the court adjourned the hearing till April 18.

The petition had claimed that the four PTI MPAs left the assembly premises to go to their residences but were ‘kidnapped’ by Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Hamza Shehbaz.

The petitioner sought an order to the police to recover and produce the alleged detainees before the court so they could be set free.

PML-N WELCOMES DECISION: Meanwhile, the PML-N has welcomed the detailed judgement of the LHC in the Punjab chief minister’s election case.

The party’s Punjab spokesperson Azma Bokhari said the PML-N welcomes the verdict, which makes it clear that Pervaiz Elahi, being a candidate for the CM’s slot, cannot use his powers as the Punjab Assembly speaker.

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