Supreme Court sets July 22 as date for Punjab CM election

F.P. Report

LAHORE: Supreme Court of Pakistan Friday set July 22 as the new date for holding the election for Punjab Chief Minister after all the concerned parties including PTI, PML-N and PML-Q reached a consensus.

A decision in this regard will be issued late at night or early morning tomorrow.

Hamza Shehbaz will remain Punjab chief minister till the election of the new chief minister after PTI chairman Imran Khan and Hamza’s rival candidate Ch Pervaiz Elahi agreed to accept him as Punjab CM till the new elections.

Earlier, Justice Ijazul Ahsan has remarked that the election of the Punjab chief minister is not possible today while partially accepting the PTI’s plea for the delay in the vote recount .

However, the Supreme Court has refused to restore the Usman Buzdar government during the hearing of the PTI petition against the Lahore High Court’s decision of recounting the MPAs’ votes in Punjab Assembly for the election of chief minister by excluding votes of 25 dissident PTI MPAs.

A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, is presiding over the hearing.

While determined to decide the case today, the apex court ordered Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz and PML-Q leader and Punjab Assembly Speaker Ch Pervaiz Elahi to reach the Lahore SC registry and join the court proceedings via video link from there. Both Hamza and Elahi have reached the registry and joined the proceedings.

The Supreme Court which started its hearing after Juma prayers, took three breaks up until now. 

During his dialogue with Ch Pervaiz Elahi, Justice Ahsan said that the court could not accept his both suggestions. He said ‘either hold election in a couple of days and who gets majority, he will become the chief minister, or if Mr Elahi agrees that Hamza remains Punjab CM, then the court will give July 17 date for the election.

During the hearing, PTI lawyer Babar Awan sought a week long time for the reelection of Punjab chief minister. He argued by that time the notification regarding the reserved seats would also be issued and his party’s members who had gone abroad for Umrah performance would be able to come back. He said he wanted to request a delay for 10 days but now settled for 7 days only.

While not buying the lawyer’s argument for vote recount delay, Justice Ahsan remarked that members could reach Lahore from any corner of the country within 24 hours.

Mr Awan told the court that Ch Pervaiz had no objection over Hamza Shehbaz but he wanted that CM election should be held after Hajj.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Bandial asked the PTI lawyer whether he wanted that the province would remain without chief minister for 7 days.

Justice Ahsan remarked that the governor could ask the legally elected chief minister to continue his work. He said that in the dissenting note of the LHC verdict, July 2 was mentioned as the vote recount date, inquiring whether the PTI was ready for tomorrow’s voting? He wondered on which basis, the Supreme Court should interfere in the LHC decision.

Justice Ahsan said that the province could not be run without a CM for long. The chief justice of Pakistan inquired if the CM would not be available then who would run the province.

The PTI lawyer said that in his opinion, former chief minister would be restored in this situation.

Justice Ahsan asked if there was any clause in the constitution which allows governor to take charge till the election of chief minister.

However, CJP Bandial remarked that it would be unconstitutional if the governor would run the province. He said only public representatives could run the province. He remarked that the people would have to vote in the July 17 by-elections on 20 PA seats. How could it be possible to stop the provincial affairs till by-polls, the CJP said adding that it’s better if people would decide for themselves.

The PTI requested the court to delay the vote recount/reelection for at least a week as many of its members were not able to participate in today’s vote recount process due to their various engagements and some were out of country and had gone for the performance of Umrah.

On this, the CJP asked the PTI lawyer whether his party wanted there would be no CM in the province for 7 days. He remarked that only public representatives could run a province under the constitution.

Justice Ahsan said that the interim setup could be formed only after the dissolution of assembly.

PTI lawyer Babar Awan suggested that an interim cabinet be formed in Punjab.

Justice Ahsan inquired who would take place of the chief minister.

Mr Awan replied that some senior minister could run the province.

Justice Ahsan said he was fully aware of the PTI’s concerns but at the same time, the province could not be left without a chief minister. He said democracy could best serve only when people decide about things.

“If chief minister does not have 186 votes, then it’s difficult for him to remain the provincial executive,” he remarked.

CJP Bandial observed that the LHC wanted that the provincial government should stay in the province. He, however, inquired whether the formula of acting chief minister could be applied in Punjab.

“But it’s not possible that the former chief minister would be restored”, the CJP added.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Ahsan said that Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz had got 197 votes and if 25 votes of PTI rebel members were deducted, then he would be left with 172 votes. The judge said that the LHC ordered for the vote recount polled on April 16 and if Hamza failed to attain 186 votes then a re-election would be held under Article 130(4), unless another candidate has majority votes.

The justice said that he was not agreed with the PTI’s plea for any delay in the vote recount/reelection process. “On which basis, we should interfere in the decision of the LHC verdict,” the judge remarked adding that all members could attend the assembly session on 24 hours’ notice.

However, the apex court categorically rejected the restoration of the previous Usman Buzdar government terming it impossible.

Earlier today, the PTI submitted its petition in the Supreme Court requesting the court to accept its appeal against the LHC’s decision. “The PTI assembly members must be given adequate time to attend the assembly session,” it demanded.

“Hamza Shehbaz should be removed from the office so that a clean and transparent election could be held. The election of Punjab Chief Minister should be stopped till decision on the petition [appeal],” it added.

“Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz Sharif’s notification of success should be suspended. The election of Chief Minister in Punjab Assembly should be suspended immediately,” it demanded further. “A suitable time should be given to convene the assembly session by changing the decision of the high court. The parties in the case have the constitutional right to clean and transparent elections,” it added.