Wednesday October 04, 2023

CM election

By Editorial Board
July 01, 2022

In the continuing saga of who gets to sit on the Punjab CM’s seat, the Lahore High Court (LHC) has ordered a recount of votes of the Punjab chief minister election and the candidate who secures a majority vote – after the expected runoff – will be declared CM. The recount is to take place today at 4pm as per the LHC order. In what is now not even surprising, given the consistent twists and turns in Punjab, several PTI leaders hailed the LHC decision but later both the PTI and Speaker Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi announced that they would challenge it in the Supreme Court. This could be because of a perception that the LHC verdict will actually give legitimacy to the CM election since now the dissident members will not be allowed to vote as per the SC’s decision regarding Article 63A. So any celebrations by the PTI may well have been premature – something Elahi seems to have caught on rather quickly.

If the elections do take place today as per the LHC ruling and Hamza Shehbaz is – yet again – able to secure the most votes according to Article 130(4), it could very well lead to consolidation of power by the PML-N. However, the court has also said that in case Hamza loses the election, ‘functions performed and powers exercised by Hamza Shahbaz as chief minister and his cabinet, in accordance with law, shall be protected under the de facto doctrine’. This clarifies the ambiguity related to the budget and other executive decisions that have been taken since Hamza Shehbaz was elected CM Punjab on April 16.

So will the constitutional crisis finally end in Punjab after the LHC decision? That pretty much depends on how things pan out in the SC after the PTI and PML-Q appeal. Where the PTI is saying that this decision has caused even more confusion than before, the PML-N is questioning why the PTI is criticizing this decision when they went to the court themselves. Despite the confusion and the verdict, observers feel that statements from the PML-N, PTI and PML-Q lead to one conclusion: Hamza Shehbaz is rather confident of the outcome of the second round of voting. The numbers game as it stands right now is: the PML-N has 164 members, PPP 7, Rah-e-Haq party 1 and there are 4 independents. The total comes to 176. The PTI has 158 members, while the PML-Q 10. Apparently, six people from the PTI side have gone for Hajj which is why the party is saying the time given by the court is too short for the CM election. The PTI’s Raja Basharat has also criticized the point that five reserved seats members have not yet been notified while 20 others are contesting by-elections so they cannot vote.

If it turns out that the SC decides to halt the CM recount today and waits till the by-elections, that may possibly lead to more confusion: who will be the provincial chief executive in such a scenario? The PTI is demanding that Usman Buzdar be restored as caretaker CM, saying it wants a ‘level-playing field’ as the aggrieved party. LHC Justice Sajid Sethi’s dissenting note says that after excluding 25 votes of PTI defectors, the remaining votes at the credit of respondent-Muhammad Hamza Shehbaz are 172: “Therefore, he is not member elected within the contemplation of Article 130(4) of the constitution and being a stranger to the office of chief minister, cannot be allowed to hold the office” The dissenting opinion further says: “Consequently, Mr Usman Ahmed Khan Buzdar, is restored to the office of chief minister of the Punjab with immediate effect, as he was on said date.’ This may be why the opposition is hopeful of challenging the LHC decision. Whatever happens today, it is important that the constitutional crisis ends in Punjab once and for all. The province cannot afford any more constitutional ambiguity and governance uncertainty.