The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Friday announced that the re-election for the Punjab chief minister would be held on July 22 after the provincial government, PTI, and PML-Q reached a consensus on the issue.
The PTI had filed a petition seeking the annulment of the Lahore High Court (LHC) decision that had ordered the governor to hold the re-count for the Punjab CM’s slot on Friday at 4pm.
During the hearing, Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervaiz Elahi, a contender for the CM’s slot, had initially agreed that Hamza Shahbaz could remain the chief minister till July 17, but its coalition partner the PTI disagreed.
In a bid to break the deadlock, the top court directed Elahi to speak to PTI Chairman Imran Khan and come up with a solution as it adjourned the hearing for half an hour.
After the hearing resumed, all the parties agreed that Hamza would remain the chief minister till the re-election on July 22.
In a 4-1 split decision a day earlier, the LHC had wrapped up PTI’s case against Hamza’s election to the CM’s slot, while ordering a recount of the votes cast during the Punjab chief executive’s election but with the exclusion of 25 PTI dissidents’ votes, in line with the Supreme Court interpretation of Article 63(A).
But in its bid to remove Hamza from the post of Punjab chief minister, PTI had earlier challenged the orders of the LHC to hold a vote recount on the CM poll which was held on April 16.
The SC accepted the plea for an immediate hearing and formed a three-member bench. The hearing was headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, while Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail were members of the bench.
At the outset of the hearing, PTI leader Babar Awan appeared before the court while PTI’s counsel attended the hearing through video link.
Starting his arguments, Awan informed the court that many of the PTI lawmakers were not present in Lahore due to some personal preoccupation.
At this, Justice Ahsan remarked that he doesn’t agree with waiting for the voting process if a member was absent.
Meanwhile, the CJP said the PTI seeks time for the lawmakers who were not in the provincial capital and observed that “why should the Supreme Court intervene in this? Does the PTI want the court to give it more time? Should we intervene on LHC decision?”
The chief justice said that the LHC’s order mentions that the voting would be held on Friday. “Are you ready for it?” he asked, at which PTI sought seven days for re-polling.
The CJP responded to the request by saying that the lawmakers present in the country should have been able to reach Lahore within a day.
“How much time is required for your lawmakers to reach Lahore? Do you want Punjab to remain without a chief minister for seven days?” the chief justice wondered.
CJP Bandial asked if the CM was not in the office, then who would run the province.
Justice Ahsan said a question remains on whether the session for re-voting of the CM will be held at 4pm today or not.
“Convince us that the session should not be held today, then we will decide whether it should be called today or not,” he told the PTI lawyers.
He also wondered whether there was a section in the Constitution that allowed the imposition of governor rule till the re-election of the CM.
PTI counsel Faisal Chaudhry maintained that PTI had 169 members if the 25 dissidents were excluded.
“This means you don’t have the majority,” CJP Bandial remarked.
At this, Chaudhry said that no one in the Punjab Assembly had the majority.
Meanwhile, Siddiqui maintained that the Punjab governor should run the provincial affairs till the re-election of the CM.
CJ Bandial snapped back, saying that a by-election on 20 seats is slated for July 17.
“How can we stop the province from working till the by-election,” he remarked, adding that handing the reins to the governor would be unconstitutional.
“We understand PTI’s concern, but I don’t think the province should be left without a CM,” the CJ remarked.
“Both parties will have to face difficulty if they don’t agree on re-polling,” CJ Bandial remarked.
The CJ added that the court was not issuing any order to hold the Punjab Assembly session as per schedule, therefore, the session shouldn’t be started until the hearing was underway.
He said that the court will resume the hearing at 3:45pm and wrap up by 4pm as the CJP summoned Hamza Shehbaz and Pervaiz Elahi.
When Elahi and Hamza arrived at the court for the hearing, the CJP asked the Punjab Assembly as to what should be the course of action.
Elahi said that both sides could give a mutual decision after consultation. At this, Justice Ahsan said that “both of you should have come to the court after consultations.”
The judge asked Hamza what he had to say. At this, the PML-N leader said, “no one is indispensable, and that the country’s system should operate uninterrupted.”
Hamza said that the coalition government had the numbers and asked the court to allow the election to take place today.
At this, Justice Ahsan said that the 4pm deadline set by the LHC was up and that the judges would give a decision of their own — as the parties were not able to reach a consensus.
Responding to the judge, Hamza said that the election could also take place on July 17 — the day when by-polls take place. To this, Justice Ahsan asked Hamza whether he was ready to remain out of the CM’s Office till July 17.
The PML-N leader responded by saying that the court should decide what date should the polling take place as both the parties involved in the case could not reach a consensus.
The judges then asked Elahi what his opinion on the matter was. He told the bench that he would accept any decision that the court announces, but also sought assurances that if the polling date exceeded, then no Opposition member would be arrested.
Justice Ahsan said that if Elahi accepted Hamza as the chief minister till July 17, then all other matters could be resolved amicably.
He added that Elahi had two options, either accept Hamza as the CM or give a date for the re-election. The justice assured that no arrests would be made.
At this, Elahi agreed that Hamza would retain the chief ministership until July 17.
However, PTI lawyer Babar Awan protested against it and said that the party would not accept Hamza as the chief minister — bringing allies PML-Q and PTI to a crossroads over the matter.
The court then asked Elahi to consult with PTI Chairman Imran Khan and reach a consensus as it adjourned the hearing for the third time and went on a break for half an hour.
Once the hearing began after the break, PTI’s counsel Imtiaz Siddiqui told the court that the parties have reached a consensus and the Punjab government had agreed to hold the polling after the July 17 by-elections.
The lawyer said that the parties had agreed that Hamza should remain the chief minister till the re-election.
The CJP then asked Awan what Khan’s directives were.
He informed the court that Khan had agreed to accept Hamza as the interim CM till July 17 and had sought surety that the Opposition members would not be arrested until the re-polling takes place.
Awan said that Khan had reservations against the election commission and wanted assurances that the by-elections would be transparent.
At this, the CJP asked Hamza: “Do you plan on rigging the elections?”
Hamza responded by saying that he had been a political worker for the last 22 years.
In response, Justice Ahsan asked Hamza to reply clearly to the CJP.
“The by-elections will be transparent; there will be no rigging,” Hamza assured the court.
The top court then finally said that the re-election will take place on July 22 after all the parties involved in the case gave assurances.
THE PETITION: The PTI had sought an immediate hearing on the plea, requesting to remove Hamza from Punjab CM’s post and suspend the process of recounting till a decision on this plea.
PTI maintained in its plea that LHC order should be amended and sufficient time should be granted to notify all the lawmakers to ensure their presence in the Punjab Assembly session so that a free and fair election of the Punjab CM can be held.
Referring to the objection raised by Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi, PTI sought to quash the notification issued for the appointment of Hamza as the CM as he’ll no longer have the majority of votes within the contemplation of Article 130(4) of the Constitution when the PTI dissidents’ votes are excluded.
In his dissenting note in the verdict, Justice Sethi had said that the votes of the 25 PTI dissidents cast in favour of Hamza were “admitted”, therefore, there was no need to repeat the exercise of counting/recounting.
The judge noted that in the 371-strong Punjab Assembly, the requisite number needed to become a chief minister was 186 votes. He went on to say that from the record, Hamza obtained 197 votes. Justice Sethi also said that after excluding the 25 votes, Hamza had 172 votes. “Therefore, he is not a member elected within the contemplation of Article 130(4) of the Constitution and being a stranger to the office of the chief minister, cannot be allowed to hold the office,” he said.
“[…] the Chief Minister Punjab may kindly be removed pending this election process due to absence of a valid notification of his appointment and that the Court may graciously grant such time and issue such direction where free and fair election to the post of Chief Minister Punjab takes place with the participation of duly constituted Assembly in accordance with the norms of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973,” the plea stated.
Sibtain Khan, Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly, Zainab Umair, Mian Muhammad Aslam Iqbal, Syed Abbas Ali Shah and Ahsan Saleem Bharyar have filed the petition.
CM Hamza Shahbaz, Punjab government, Deputy Speaker Punjab Assembly Dost Mohammad Mazari, Governor Punjab’s secretary and PA secretary were named as respondents in the case.
LHC ORDER: According to the verdict, the votes will be recounted and the candidate securing a majority of votes will be declared the chief minister.
Article 130(4) of the Constitution of Pakistan governs the election of chief ministers, under which there is an obligation of a majority of 186 votes.
Hamza will no longer be the chief minister if he doesn’t retain the required majority after the exclusion of 25 votes, while the second round of polls will be held as per Article 130(4) in case no one gets the majority after a recount.
“We could, possibly direct fresh election after declaring the election as unlawful but it would nullify the direction by the apex court to the state functionaries for the conduct of election in accordance with the Constitution and the decision by learned Division Bench of this Court, appointing Deputy Speaker as presiding officer and directing for the conduct of the election on 16th April 2022,” the verdict stated.
It further said that the court cannot quash the notification issued by the presiding officer as well.