LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday instructed Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Deputy Speaker Dost Mazari and Leader of the Opposition Hamza Shahbaz to mutually finalise a date for the election of the office of the chief minister.
“They should sit in the office of the Punjab advocate-general and solve the matter amicably,” Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti said.
“Remember that we are all residents of this country. Don’t create a scene outside. Solve the problem at home, together.”
His remarks came as the court took up Hamza’s petition which had sought its help in holding elections for Punjab’s new chief minister in a “fair and transparent” manner.
Earlier, the LHC chief justice clubbed Elahi’s petition in the case as well, which had accused the PML-N vice president of holding MPAs hostage.
During the hearing, referring to the April 3 session, the judge remarked the question in front of the court was whether an assembly sitting to elect the chief minister could be adjourned. “We have to ask relevant authorities about the process of the chief minister election.”
In his arguments, PML-N’s counsel Azam Nazeer Tarar said the post of Punjab chief minister had been empty since the resignation of Usman Buzdar. “Right now, the province doesn’t have an executive,” he said.
Consequently, the judge directed the assembly secretary to brief the court about the election record.
He replied that after Buzdar’s resignation on April 1, the process of election started the next day. “On April 2, the scrutiny [of candidates] was completed and nomination papers were accepted as well.”
On April 3, the secretary continued, a session, led by Mazari, was called, but it was adjourned till April 6 after a fight broke out between the women MPAs inside the assembly hall.
“Do you have a video of the fight,” the LHC chief justice asked.
The secretary replied in the affirmative and continued that on April 4 he had sent a report on the damages inside the PA to the speaker who then further adjourned the session.
“But on April 6, a notification issued by Mazari started doing rounds on social media. It said that a session was being called in the evening,” he said, adding that the Assembly Secretariat wasn’t informed about it despite repeated calls to the deputy speaker.
Consequently, he added, the speaker striped Mazari of his powers.
Here, Justice Bhatti asked the reason behind the speaker’s actions. “You didn’t receive the notification […] This means no process was to take place.”
The secretary replied that later a no-confidence motion had been moved against the deputy speaker. “When this happens, the deputy speaker can’t chair the session.”
The judge asked again whether it was legally possible to postpone the election for the chief minister. “Apparently, it isn’t allowed,” he observed and then wondered if nomination papers could be submitted a day before the poll.
Ali Zafar, the counsel for PML-Q, revealed that the papers could be submitted any day before the election.
But the LHC chief justice said that the rules “mention hours not days”. He also asked if the speaker had the right to suspend the deputy speaker’s powers if the former was contesting elections.
“The main question is that under what law was the date of the election changed,” he said. “How can someone violate the election schedule and give a date of their own?”
For his part, Zafar said the court could not intervene in the matters of the assembly. “The issue was brought up in the Supreme Court but no order was passed,” he added.
Consequently, Punjab Advocate-General Ahmed Owais took the rostrum. “I had said [in the SC] that no one could exceed the powers in the law.”
But the PML-N counsel contended that the apex court had said that it was a provincial matter and should be taken to the high court.
Here, the advocate-general brought up PML-N’s mock assembly session at a private hotel in Lahore but Nazeer argued that the meeting was just “symbolic”. “There was not even a peon of the assembly there,” he added.
After the arguments, Justice Bhatti observed that election rules were formed for a reason. “You can’t follow or break the rules whenever you want to,” he said, adding that even the SC had ruled that the no-confidence movement couldn’t be extended.
“It had emphasised that voting should be held,” the LHC chief justice recalled and reiterated that the assembly had no other option than to follow the rules.
He also asked why the election had to be delayed till April 16. “There’s no reason to extend this. Hold the voting in a day or two. Hold it as soon as possible.”
The judge, consequently, adjourned the hearing till 2:00 pm and instructed all the respondents to chalk out a plan for the election together and present it in court.