The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and its coalition partner, the PML-Q, are struggling to get their combined nominee, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, installed as chief minister of the province. Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari’s sudden change of heart to convene the Punjab Assembly session through an order on plain paper has further complicated matters.
Mr Mazari, going against his party’s line, overruled his earlier order to postpone the assembly session until April 16 and re-summoned the PA on Wednesday. The new order went viral, and the opposition began preparing for the much-anticipated election of Punjab’s chief minister. Minutes later, the Punjab Assembly secretariat dismissed the deputy speaker’s order as “false” because it had not been issued by the secretariat, and announced that the session would be called on the 16th. The PML-N-led opposition, on the other hand, questioned that the chief ministerial election would even take place on that day. They claimed the PTI was taking identical moves in Punjab to how interim Prime Minister Imran Khan had ‘trampled’ the Constitution at the federal level.
With the opposition threatening to converge on the PA on Wednesday to ensure that the session was held, the provincial government reacted quickly, barricading the building and deploying large police and Rangers contingents. In case of an impending incident between government and opposition workers, water cannons and emergency rescue services were activated.
Opposition legislators arrived in the assembly the next day after Mazari’s Tuesday night edict, only to be told that the directive had no legal standing and that they should return on April 16. The legislators got into a violent altercation with police officers who had blocked the assembly’s entrance. Outside the assembly building, MPs staged a sit-in and chanted slogans against interim Prime Minister Imran Khan.
During the day, a huge number of employees from the ruling coalition arrived at the assembly and organised a protest against Mr Mazari and the opposition’s ‘detention’ of its MPAs in a local hotel. They chanted “lota” slogans (turncoats).
Later that evening, in another hotel, the joint opposition convened a mock Punjab Assembly session and passed a resolution electing PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz as the new chief minister.
Meanwhile, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, the Punjab Assembly speaker, used his power to order the “removal of powers given to the deputy speaker in terms of Rule 25 of the Rules ibid with immediate effect.” The order was announced by the assembly secretariat in a formal notification.
Soon after, the PML-Q and PTI provincial members filed a no-confidence motion against their own Deputy Speaker Mazari, attempting to strip him of his authority to preside over a session and demanding his dismissal.
According to a party insider, the PML-N leadership has been talking with Mr Mazari for a few of weeks since he took over the House from Mr Elahi to guarantee a smooth election of the CM.
“Finally, Mazari accepted a ‘decent offer’ from the PML-N (a party ticket for himself and his uncle) and agreed to drop out of the race at this critical moment. But the PTI-PML-Q coalition had something else planned for him (the removal of his privileges as deputy speaker) to compensate for his “favour” to the opposition,” he alleged.
The opposition PML-N and PPP drafted a no-confidence motion against Mr Elahi in a tit-for-tat manoeuvre, but were unable to file it. Mr Elahi had lost the confidence of the majority of MPs in the legislature, according to the members, and was conducting the assembly in violation of the Constitution.
Two assembly officials approached the protesting legislators and demanded them to hand over the motion, according to PML-N parliamentary party chief whip Khalil Tahir Sandhu. He claimed, “We insisted that the assembly secretary come out and take it, but he didn’t show up.”
The assembly officers went up to the opposition members at the parliament’s main entrance to receive the proposal, but they refused to hand it over, claiming they wanted to enter the premises and submit the move themselves, according to a Punjab Assembly spokesperson. The spokeswoman stated that they were told the assembly secretariat was closed for the day and that they would not be permitted entry.
When asked why Mr Mazari was chairing an assembly session in a local hotel, a spokeswoman replied the deputy speaker had lost his authority to do so after a no-confidence vote was filed against him. “Him chairing any session would be a violation of the law and the constitution,” he insisted.
Mr Mazari, on the other hand, told the media that Mr Usman Buzdar’s resignation as chief minister had left a void in the province. “It’s past time for a CM to be elected because the province’s business aren’t running well,” he continued.
The deputy speaker stated he was not afraid of the no-confidence motion against him and that he would fight it. “The administration is attempting to prevent me from preside over the chief minister’s election process in the Punjab Assembly,” he said, saying that some forces were attempting to sabotage the legal and constitutional process in order to cause confusion and instability in the country.
Mazari visited CM-candidate Hamza Shehbaz a few days ago, according to former provincial minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan, following which he ceased working with the government in terms of pursuing action against dissident PTI members under Article 63A of the Constitution.
Mr Mazari, he claimed, had issued his own directive on plain paper, apparently on Mr Hamza’s orders, to call the session on Wednesday.
Many top members of the ruling PTI have left the party due to claims of corruption, nepotism, and mistreatment of die-hard workers as a result of the country’s quickly changing political events and shifting loyalties.
Former governor Chaudhry Sarwar and former senior minister Abdul Aleem Khan launched separate tirades against the prime minister, despite the fact that the Jahangir Tareen group had developed its own identity as a dissident organisation two years ago and eventually elected to sit with the opposition. Asad Khokhar, a provincial minister, and Dost Mazari, the most recent minister, have both left the government.
Mr Tareen is expected to return to Pakistan on April 12 and resume his political career with the PML-N after meeting with the party’s leadership in the country, according to sources.