Punjab on Tuesday headed for a political showdown, as the federal government insisted that Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi would “cease to hold” office if he failed to get a vote of confidence from the provincial assembly by 4pm on Wednesday (today), while Speaker Sibtain Khan disposed of the governor’s order to the chief minister for the vote as “unconstitutional”.
Speaking after an important meeting at the Governor House, following the ruling of the Punjab Assembly Speaker, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that if Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi did not get the vote of confidence, the governor could summon another assembly session for the election of the new chief minister.
On Monday, Governor Balighur Rehman directed the Punjab chief minister to seek a vote of confidence on December 21 (today). The governor’s direction came after the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) filed no-confidence motion against Elahi in a bid to forestall the dissolution of the provincial assembly on Friday.
On Tuesday, Speaker Sibtain Khan, who was chairing the Punjab Assembly session, adjourned the sitting until Friday, instead of Wednesday (today) as directed by the governor. The speaker said that the governor’s letter, asking the chief minister to seek a vote of confidence, was against the assembly rules as well as the Constitution.
The speaker ruled that the governor’s order to the chief minister was “unconstitutional because the assembly was already in session and unless the current session was prorogued, the governor could not summon a fresh session”.
“The provincial assembly of the Punjab is already in the session having been summoned by the speaker on a requisition by the members of the assembly on 23rd October …” the ruling said. “Until and unless the current session is prorogued the governor cannot summon any fresh session,” it added.
After the ruling, an important meeting was held at Governor House, which was attended by senior PML-N leaders, including Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah. The meeting reviewed the situation arising after the speaker’s refusal to entertain the governor’s order for vote of confidence.
“If [the] CM Punjab does not seek a vote of confidence by 4pm Wednesday, he will cease to remain the CM,” the minister told reporters outside the Governor House. “If [the] CM does not seek vote of confidence by the given time, the governor can summon a session to elect a new CM,” he added.
Rana further said the speaker’s position was against the law and the Constitution. He stressed that as per law, the governor could summon the assembly session at his will and ask the chief minister to seek vote of confidence from the house.
However, talking to The Express Tribune the speaker reiterated his stance that the governor’s order to the chief minister was doubtful “in the eye of the Constitution as well as the assembly rules”. When asked what would be the next move, the speaker replied, “you will hear good news”.
The latest situation emerged in the wake of Imran Khan’s announcement last week, setting the date of December 23 for the dissolution of the two assemblies in order to force the coalition government to call early general elections in the country.
Imran had said that the dissolution of the two provincial assemblies, along with the resignation of the PTI lawmakers in Sindh and Balochistan assemblies, as well as the National Assembly would trigger new provincial elections and by-polls in nearly two-thirds of total constituencies of the country.
To prevent such a scenario, the ruling coalition, which mainly comprised the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) parties, have stepped up their efforts. On Monday, the PPP and the PML-N – two major parties in the alliance – filed a no-confidence motion against the chief minister.
Rana Sanaullah, while referring to Imran’s announcement of the dissolution of the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on December 23 (Friday), said that “one mad man is hell bent on destroying our system”, even his party and provincial governments.
“In case the CM [Elahi] seeks the vote of confidence and wins, then he should promise that he would not dissolve the assembly on the orders of a ‘mad man’,” the minister said. “There is a consensus among the nation and the institutions that he [Imran] must be stopped before he leads the country to a disaster.”
The PTI, which is the mainstay of Elahi’s majority in the house, is determined to thwart the opposition. “The PML-N is hiding behind the delaying tactics because its lawmakers are fully aware that they are not in a position to face the public [in elections],” provincial minister Raja Basharat told The Express Tribune.
Basharat, the Punjab minister for parliamentary affairs, insisted that governor’s letter for the vote of confidence “is tantamount to make mockery of the Constitution”. The minister stressed that governor’s letter to the chief minister had no legal value.
When asked the same question of Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan, a senior PML-N leader and former two times provincial speaker, said that the governor did everything in accordance with the law. When asked further if the matter could land in courts, he said there was a possibility.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Legal Affairs Atta Tarar said that the federal government would use all legal options against the speaker’s ruling. “It completely illegal for the speaker not to entertain the governor orders for vote of vote of confidence.”
When pointed out that the speaker had cited a legal precedence and gave his reasons for turning down this order, Tarar said the position the speaker took was completely illegal. Technically, he added, Elahi would cease to remain a lawful chief minister, “if he does not seek vote of confidence on the day specified by the governor”.
When asked they had sufficient numbers to oust the chief minister through the opposition’s no-confidence motion, Tarar said that the PDM did not need the numbers, because now, the chief minister would “have to seek the vote of confidence to prove his majority”.
Meanwhile, PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari visited the PML-Quaid President Chaudary Shujaat Hussain for a second time in three days, to discuss the latest political situation in Punjab. PML-Q leaders Chaudary Salik Hussain and Tariq Bashir Chema and PPP leader Nasir Hussain Shah also attended the meeting.
A press statement issued after meeting, said that PML-N leader Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan briefed the leaders of the two parties about the ongoing political situation in Punjab. “The PDM will have its own chief minister in Punjab soon, said the statement.
The Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan presence at the meeting stoked the talk that he could be the PDM’s choice for the Punjab chief minister after Elahi was removed through the no-confidence vote. However, responding to a media query, he said: “I’m fighting for Hamza Shehbaz, not for myself.”