Constitutional crisis over removal of the Punjab governor shows no sign of resolution
he constitutional crisis in the Punjab continues unabated. If anything, it is looking uglier by the day.
After President Arif Alvi refused to remove former Punjab governor Umer Sarfraz Cheema, the Cabinet Division issued a notification, announcing Cheema’s ouster.
However, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi predictably refused to work as the acting Punjab governor.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has now announced it will challenge the Cabinet Division’s notification before a court.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif had sent an advice to President Alvi, asking him to appoint Balighur Rehman, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader from southern Punjab, as the new Punjab governor. The president has not acted on the premier’s advice. If he does not follow the advice in 15 days, the federal government will likely press ahead and the Cabinet Division will notify Rehman’s appointment as the new governor. The PTI will likely take the issue to court.
Earlier, President Alvi had stated in a tweet that he found no justification for removing Cheema from his office because he was performing his official duties in accordance with the constitution. The federal government waited for 15 days and then issued the notification for Cheema’s removal.
Speaker Elahi was asked to work as acting governor but he refused to assume the office for various reasons. Elahi is a candidate for Punjab chief minister. He is anxiously awaiting a ruling in the case of the PTI dissidents who voted for Hamza Shahbaz. If a verdict de-seats the defectors, he will challenge Hamza for the chief minister’s office. Elahi has also refused to acknowledge the election of Hamza Shahbaz and challenged the voting process. Had he assumed charge as acting governor, he might be required to administer the oath to the new provincial cabinet, likely to be announced in a day or two. Doing so, might amount to acknowledging the legitimacy of Hamza’s election.
Earlier, President Alvi had stated in a tweet that he found no justification for removing Cheema from his office because he was performing his functions in accordance with the constitution. The federal government waited for 15 days and then issued a notification for Cheema’s removal.
“I am consulting constitutional experts in this regard,” Elahi has said. He has also met with Cheema and expressed ‘solidarity’ with him.
Meanwhile, Cheema is claiming that he remains the de jure governor. He has asked the Establishment to help him exercise the functions of his office.
If the standoff continues, there will be an ever-present risk of clashes between the ruling coalition and the PTI and its PML-Q allies. It looks like President Alvi will continue to cause delays by withholding his assent for important legislation and signing off important appointments.
The deadlock has sparked off a new constitutional debate in the country. Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar says: “It is President Arif Alvi, who is supposed to work for the Federation, that is hindering the constitutional process. The federal government is following the constitutional process.”
Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali, who has been appointed recently, says occupying a constitutional office by force is unethical. “When a governor loses trust of the federal government, he should leave the office in a dignified manner. The office is meant to symbolise honour and respect for due process.”
Advocate Ahmad Awais, who was appointed advocate general by the PTI government and claims to represent the de jure provincial government, says that the federal government has been guilty of showing contempt for the office of the president.
He says that removal of Cheema from the office of the Punjab governor despite President Alvi’s rejection of the premier’s summary is a disgrace. “The Governor’s House is not private property. It is a symbol of the state authority. The government has occupied it illegally.”
The ruling coalition is worried on account of President Alvi’s recent conduct. It is feared that he will cause dangerous delays in notifying crucial decisions and legislation at a time when the government needs to move quickly and achieve certain political and administrative goals in a short period. The only way to remove the president is through impeachment for which the government lacks enough votes.
This might force the government’s hand in terms of calling elections as soon as it can legislate electoral reforms.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher