Rumpus in Punjab



April 23, 2022


Nabeel Zafar details outrageous happenings in Pakistan’s largest province

F ollowing extremely chaotic scenes in the Punjab Assembly Hamza Shahbaz was elected as the new chief minister of Punjab. The intensely violent rumpus witnessed PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Ellahi getting injured and Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari getting attacked. In the end Hamza Shehbaz garnered 197 votes to beat his opponent Parvez Ellahi whose party PML-Q and ally PTI boycotted the election that began after more than five hours of delay following a number of altercations and melees on the floor of the House throughout the day. It was a sorry display of democratic activity carried by mainstream political parties in a province that remained practically without an effective government for over a month. The most worrying aspect of the entire drama was the helplessness of the state machinery that was nothing more than a bystander. The session was scheduled to begin at 11:30am but got underway a little after 5pm, following which the deputy speaker ordered that the doors of the legislature be closed and commenced the proceedings for voting. Prior to the resumption of the session, television footage showed Ellahi being given oxygen while his right forearm was bandaged. He alleged that PML-N MPA Rana Mashood broke his hand. Along with his political opponents, Ellahi accused Punjab Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan of acting directly on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s directives.

Earlier, slogans were chanted by both the parties, while PTI members threw lotas at the opposition benches, leading to open altercations and fights on the floor of the house. When deputy speaker Mazari entered the assembly, members of the treasury benches threw lotas at him and tried to circle him, while one of the MPAs pulled his hair and others were seen taking shots at him. Mazari was immediately shifted to his chamber by assembly guards. To control the situation inside the house, Punjab SSP Operations along with a huge contingent of police officers entered the assembly in civil clothes but later exited the hall after protests from Ellahi. Meanwhile, the Punjab chief secretary and IG held a meeting inside Mazari’s chamber to chalk out a plan to resume the PA session. Later in the day, officers of the Anti-riots Force, clad in bulletproof jackets, entered the Punjab Assembly via its old gate after the deputy speaker summoned them through a letter written to chief secretary and IG Punjab. Earlier, a tough contest was expected for the top slot between the ruling coalition (PMLQ and PTI) candidate Parvez Ellahi and PMLN’s Hamza Shehbaz, who was the joint opposition’s candidate. Both candidates, along with their supporters, had arrived at the PA in the morning. Ellahi is currently the speaker of the house but since he was one of the candidates for chief minister, he could not preside the session. Elaborate security arrangements were made in and around the assembly to prevent any untoward incident before and after the chief minister’s election and paramilitary Rangers were also called in to support police. Ahead of the proceedings, Mazari, who had been restored to his position after the Lahore High Court overturned Speaker Ellahi’s order of withdrawing his powers said that he would ensure fair and transparent elections.

At the momentous day the events proved that they were against the norms of democratic conduct. These activities also portrayed the scant regard shown to the instructions of the Lahore High Court that directed the deputy speaker to hold a vote to elect a new leader of the House. There was hardly any doubt that this election was going to be messy as was earlier demonstrated in the national assembly in Islamabad but the extent of unruly behaviour witnessed during the proceedings was quite unexpected and took people by surprise. The events started to move fast when PTI and PML-Q lawmakers abused, attacked and injured Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari to keep him from carrying out his parliamentary and court-mandated responsibilities crossing all limits. The ensuing violence was unprecedented during which unbridled vandalism was resorted to. To make matters worse it was reported that allegedly help was provided to the assembly members by some assembly staffers to smuggle lotas and banners into the House indicating that violence was premeditated and that the PTI, and PML-Q, only ally it was left with by then, in their desperation, planned to subvert the election process and delay the defeat of their candidate. It was quite obvious that in reaction, some PML-N members too lost their cool and took the mayhem to a high note badly besmirching the reputation of democratic governance. The reasons for violence were many but its scale was certainly unexpected.

Coming on the heels of earlier events of such nature witnessed in the National Assembly the melee in the Punjab Assembly came as a reminder to all and sundry that when polarisation becomes acute the results are often unbelievably ugly. It is becoming all too evident that verbal abuse spewed on rivals at public meetings is now turning into physical violence. Similarly social media hatred is spilling over into real life that is negatively affecting social relationships with even rational people apparently carried away by it. The extreme polarisation in society, which has resulted from the constant rants and abusive discourse perpetuated by politicians who are not prepared to respect the law or to accept a vote that goes against them has become endemic and may well have catastrophic after-effects. These events has a protracted background as to begin with the Punjab Assembly had to elect the new leader of the house after Usman Buzdar’s resignation last month though the elections were stalled. The voting, which was first supposed to held on 3 April, was adjourned for three days because of a ruckus between the opposition and government lawmakers inside the assembly. Later, Deputy Speaker Mazari issued another notification, delaying the session further to 16 April. However, in a late night development on 5 April, Mazari superseded his earlier order and summoned the assembly to meet at 7:30pm on 6 April— a development that was denied by a spokesperson for the provincial assembly and the PML-Q.

Mazari’s sudden change of heart to hold the session earlier than 16 April was termed the handiwork of the PML-N leadership that allegedly wooed him through a good offer. Amidst confusion on whether or not the session would take place on 6 April, Ellahi, using his powers as speaker, declared the deputy speaker’s order to summon the session illegal. The PML-Q leader also ordered withdrawal of powers delegated to Mazari while a no-confidence motion was also submitted against him by his own fellow lawmakers in the PTIPML-Q coalition. Meanwhile, the assembly premises were sealed with barbed wires and a police contingent deployed outside. Opposition lawmakers, who wanted to go inside the premises to conduct proceedings, could not do so. As a result, the joint opposition held a mock session of its own at a private hotel in Lahore on 6 April, where the PML-N claimed Hamza was elected as the chief minister, bagging 199 votes. The matter was, subsequently, taken to the Lahore High Court and during the hearings that followed LHC restored Mazari’s powers and instructed him to hold the elections on the fixed date of 16 April. However, the decision was challenged by Ellahi but a two members bench comprising rejected the PML-Q leader’s plea and directed the deputy speaker to conduct the elections. It ordered the Punjab chief secretary and provincial police chief to ensure foolproof security for the election today.TW

Nabeel Zafar works in the private sector


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