Noor Israr describes Punjab in renewed turmoil
Punjab in renewed turmoil was in the air that the Supreme Court (SC) will strike down the ruling of Dost Muhammad Mazari, deputy speaker of Punjab Assembly regarding election of the chief minister of Punjab. It happened precisely as speculated with the SC striking down the impugned ruling declaring that Mazari’s understanding and implementation of Article 63A(1)(b) of the Constitution was incorrect and erroneous. The political heart of Pakistan, Punjab, is now further mired in a turmoil that has shown no signs of abating since March this year as the tug of war for the province’s chief executive persists between the PTI and PMLN. The verdict delivered a big but expected blow to the coalition government as it saw PMLN’s Hamza Shehbaz lose his status of the “trustee” chief minister, while his rival Parvez Elahi, who had PTI’s backing, will now take over the position as per the top court’s order. A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and Justices Ijazul Ahsan and Munib Akhtar announced the decision.
At the heart of the matter was the fact that during the election the deputy speaker had decided against counting the votes of 10 PMLQ legislators that were cast in Pervez Elahi’s favour citing a letter written by party President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain in which he had instructed them to vote for Hamza Shehbaz instead. This decision taken on behest of the letter Hamza Shehbaz became the chief minister and hastily announced an abnormally large provincial cabinet. The subject verdict of the SC has ordered that all of the advisers and assistants appointed by Hamza to be relieved of their duties along with declaring all appointments made by Hamza Shehbaz illegal and told the members of his cabinet to vacate their offices. The icing on the cake was that the court’s order to take oath of office from Pervez Elahi by 11.30 pm and that if the governor Punjab declines to give him oath them the president of Pakistan was instructed to give oath instead.
The central character in this episode was 42-year-old Dost Muhammad Mazari, an agriculturist born and raised in Karachi whose grandfather was Mir Balkh Sher Mazari, member of the National Assembly who also served as the caretaker prime minister during 1993. The younger Mazari entered politics with a National Assembly seat on a PPP ticket in 2008 and served as parliamentary secretary for water and power and the minister for state for communications. However, in 2013, he parted ways with the party and in 2015 joined PTI and was quick to gain his party chief’s trust and in 2018 was nominated as PTI’s candidate for PA deputy speaker and got appointed.
His tiff with the PTI started with the no-confidence movement against Imran Khan and escalated on 28 March when former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar resigned following the beginning of a vicious number game in the province. PTI nominated Pervez Elahi for the slot of chief minister who gave way to Mazari to chair the session called to confirm his appointment but Mazari, going against his party line, tried to hold the session and was blocked by Pervez Elahi but supported by Hamza Shehbaz, who went to the Lahore High Court and got Mazari restored. Braving physical violence, Mazari, with the protection of police and anti-riot force, conducted the elections in which Hamza emerged victorious.
Interestingly, Dost Muhammad Mazari, deputy speaker, still member of the PTI, was entrusted by a SC order to conduct the run-off elections of the Punjab chief minister during which Mazari rejected all 10 votes cast by the PMLQ on the pretext that they had violated the orders of their party chief, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, citing a letter he received from the patriarch which said he was asking his party lawmakers to back Hamza. After counting the polled votes, the deputy speaker announced that Elahi bagged 186 votes, while Hamza could get 179 votes. The deputy speaker then announced that Hamza had won the election of chief minister, since the 10 deducted votes reduced Elahi’s tally to 176, while Hamza remained on top with 179. Mazari’s ruling was immediately declared “bogus and false” by the PTI and PML-Q, who later took the matter to the Supreme Court.
In another twist the PDM government started insisting on constituting a larger bench to hear the petition and raised many criticisms and questions about the integrity of the three-member bench hearing the case, the court decided to proceed with the same bench, reasoning that the matter did not seem to be of such grave importance that a full court bench be constituted to hear it. The SC judges steadfastly refused to budge and after quite a heated argument with the counsel of PMLN declined to increase the bench. What emerged as a consequence was unprecedented in recent judicial history of the country when the government and its allies announced boycotting the court proceedings. It was quite a spectacle to witness the government and its allies standing in the office of the prime minister and challenging the remit of another crucial organ of the state apparatus.
The ensuing turmoil has witnessed the beginning of a three-way showdown between the civilian leadership, the judiciary and the establishment. This is quite a serious situation and may well cause a major disruption in the process of governance particularly at a juncture when the country is in grip of serious economic crisis. The current issue revolves around a constitutional point that may have far-reaching impact on the constitutional management of the country. It is now obvious that the interpretation of Article 63-A whose early interpretation undertaken by the SC earlier was opposed by two members of the 5-member bench, has been further complicated. This problem analysed in the backdrop of strong internecine struggle going on between the superior judiciary may weaken the judicial wing of the state instead of strengthening it. The prospective future chief justice is on record airing his opposition to the manner in which the superior judiciary is managed. It may also encourage the political element to mount a credible challenge to the judiciary with a view to circumscribe many of its powers.
Moreover, the tenuous thaw between the political elements and the establishment appears to have disappeared and battle lines are accordingly drawn. The PDM coalition may now become an addition in the ranks of the forces that are prepared to join the fray with gusto. The angle that the PDM is now part of the governing machinery may prove quite a tough factor to encounter. If one element decides to become aggressive, the other also appears to be equipped enough to retaliate in kind. This does not behoove well for the shaky matrix of the country that already is under tremendous pressure. Any trial of strength in this connection may prove extremely harmful for the future governance of the country. The turmoil in Punjab has opened up a Pandora’s Box of chicanery in which all rational political activity has taken a back seat. It is now crystal clear that all factors involved in the current fracas have come out in open with bare knuckles and there is hardly any middle ground left to maneuver. TW