ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) Friday, while settling the three-month-long political and constitutional deadlock in the country’s biggest province, fixed July 22 as the date for run-off election for the chief minister Punjab seat.
A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsen and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, heard a petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf challenging the Lahore High Court (LHC) order, issued on Thursday.
A five-member larger bench of the LHC, headed by Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, and comprising Justice Shahid Jamil, Justice Shehram Sarwar, Justice Sajid Mehmood Sethi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, had ordered recount of the votes cast for election of the Punjab chief minister, excluding 25 PTI dissidents.
The PTI, through Mohammad Sibtain Khan, filed an appeal in the Supreme Court under Article 185(3) of the Constitution on Friday, making Chief Secretary Punjab, Deputy Speaker Punjab Sardar Dost Muhammad Khan Mazari and Hamza Shehbaz respondents.
The PTI prayed to the apex court to amend/ modify the LHC order to the extent of provision of adequate and sufficient time to hold a session of the house enabling members to participate in the proceedings for election of the Punjab chief minister in a fair and transparent manner.
It further prayed that the Punjab CM “may kindly be removed pending this election process due to absence of a valid notification of his appointment and that the court may grant such time and issue such direction where free and fair election to the post of chief minister Punjab takes place”.
The PTI further prayed that pending the instant petition, “the election process may kindly be suspended” besides praying that since the 25 votes of defectors were admittedly not to be counted, there was no need to repeat that exercise of recounting and hence the notification issued for the chief minister was liable to be quashed, as duly noted in the minority judgment.
The Chief Justice of Pakistan fixed the matter before a three-member bench under his heading and heard the matter in detail. Punjab CM Hamza Shehbaz and Speaker Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi also appeared before the court through video-link from the Supreme Court Lahore Registry.
The court, after extensive hearing, conducted in two phases, held that the re-election of chief minister Punjab would be held on July 22 after the by-election on 20 seats of the Punjab Assembly on July 17. These MPAs were de-seated by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after they voted for candidate of the opponent party against the party policy.
The court gave the decision with the consent of Chief Minister Punjab Hamza Shehbaz and Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. The court held that Hamza would continue to lead the province under what capacity, the court would give an appropriate name in its written order.
“It’s good that both the parties have reached an amicable solution with consensus for holding the election of Chief Executive of the Province on July 22,” Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial remarked while disposing of the matter. He remarked that it was good for the country and the province that a three-month long constitutional crisis had been resolved in three settings.
The CJ said that the written order in the matter would be issued on Friday night. Ch Pervaiz Elahi, who is also a candidate for the CM-ship, however, submitted before the court that for staying as the caretaker chief minister, Hamza Shehbaz would have to define his powers as, he added, Hamza behaved like a king.
The CJ remarked that not a single worker or leader of the PTI would be arrested or subjected to harassment and the court would issue an appropriate order in that regard. Babar Awan, the counsel for petitioner Sibtain Khan, told the court that they were not ready at all to accept Hamza Shehbaz as the chief minister.
The chief justice gave the counsel for PTI two options: either to get ready for CM re-election in two days, or accept Hamza Shehbaz as chief minister till July 17. And the PTI counsel agreed to the second option, after consultation with party chairman Imran Khan.
Justice Ijazul Ahsen, another member of the bench, however, observed that the two parties should stop complicating the matter. “We are not here to create constitutional crisis but to settle it amicably,” the judge remarked.
Justice Mandokhel, another member of the bench, remarked that either politicians should resolve their issues themselves, or accept the judges’ rulings if they come to the courts for resolution of their disputes.
The court then asked both the parties to deliberate and come up with an amicable solution and gave half an hour time for it. Later, Babar Awan, after appearing before the court, submitted that party chairman Imran Khan had accepted Hamza Shehbaz as the acting chief minister till July 17. Babar Awan, however, contended that Imran Khan wanted that the provincial administration including IG, chief secretary as well as provincial election commissioner must ensure rule of law and make sure that the by-elections, scheduled for July 17, were held in fair and transparent manner.
Earlier, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked the PTI counsels to inform the court as to how a provincial government would be run without a chief minister. The CJP noted that as per the Constitution, only elected representatives could run a provincial government.
“A caretaker government can only be set up in the face of the assembly being dissolved,” the CJP remarked, adding that the deadlock in Punjab should not be made a matter of egos, rather an issue concerning the country.
The CJP said that if there was no chief minister, uncertainty would prevail. Justice Ijazul Ahsen observed that it was likely the election for the post of Punjab CM would not be held today at 4pm; however, adding that deferring the vote for seven days was too long.
Justice Ahsen advised the court to set a time limit of 24, 36, or 48 hours. Imtiaz Siddiqui, counsel for Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, sought more time and submitted that six members of the provincial assembly were currently performing Umrah while the notifications of five reserved seats were still pending.
Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, another member of the bench, observed that the court had to refer to the Constitution and not the wishes of party members. At the outset of hearing, Chief Justice Bandial asked Hamza Shehbaz as to whether he intends to rig the election, while referring to the allegations being made by the PTI that the upcoming by-elections would be rigged by the provincial administration.
Hama, while rejecting the allegations, assured the court that his government would ensure free and transparent by-elections in the province. Justice Ijazul Ahsen asked the two leaders to settle the matter amongst them, or give their consent for directing the Punjab governor to appoint a caretaker.
The CJ observed that constitutional crisis was prevailing in Punjab, “hence both of you have been summoned”.
Pervaiz Elahi then told the court that they both should be given more time for settling the issue. The court gave the time to both the parties while Hamza Shehbaz submitted before the court he had great respect for the apex court, adding that nobody was important and the system must continue.
He said “let the run-off election be held today and whatever result comes after by-election, they should move a no-confidence motion against him”. Hamza said that he had restrained his members from going abroad, hence order should be given for conducting re-counting and whosoever wins the by-election on July 17, the House will later decide on it.
“Whether both of you could sit and deliberate and take final decision,” the court asked Hamza. Hamza responded that the he did not want to misguide the court by saying that they would reach a conclusion.
Justice Ahsen told Hamza that at present he was not a constitutional chief minister and had not majority in the house; that was why re-election was being held.
At this, Hamza said then election should be held today [Friday]. PTI lawyer Imtiaz Siddiqui later told the court that consultation was held with the Advocate General of Punjab and Hamza's lawyer and a consensus was reached on Hamza staying as the CM till July 17.
The chief justice observed that he was glad that both the parties came with an amicable solution, adding that it was good for both the parties as well. “What instruction you got from party’s head,” the CJP asked Babar Awan, who replied that Imran Khan had accepted Hamza Shehbaz as the CM till July 17.
“Till holding of fair and transparent by-election as well as issuing of notification by the ECP on reserved seats, Hamza Shehbaz is acceptable,” Babar Awan submitted. Later the court disposed of the matter after holding that re-election of CM Punjab would be held on July 22 and a written order would be issued later on.
Punjab CM Hamza Shehbaz said he had informed the apex court that if he did not have numbers, he would not have been standing in the court. He said, “PTI candidates were standing by my side, therefore I told the court that re-election can be held today,” he said, adding that no matter whatever happens “I will continue to work for the betterment of the people”.
Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, talking to the media, said later on that the Supreme Court gave a very good decision. “What we wanted has been accepted,” he added. He said Hamza Shehbaz also said that there would be no political interference, and police would not be used against the opponents.
PTI parliamentary leader Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed said that the judiciary paved the way for clean and transparent elections and hoped that by-elections would be held in a transparent manner. PTI Senior Vice-President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain termed the SC order victory for his party's position. He expressed these views while talking to the media outside the SC, along with PTI Secretary General Asad Umar and senior leader Babar Awan.
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