LAHORE: Opposition lawmakers in Punjab held a symbolic provincial assembly session at a local hotel on Wednesday in which they “elected” Hamza Shehbaz as the new chief minister after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration sealed the assembly building to prevent the provincial lawmakers from gathering.
The chief minister’s position in Punjab fell vacant last month amid a no-confidence campaign against Prime Minister Imran Khan after Sardar Usman Buzdar stepped down and Khan nominated Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, his coalition partner from the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) party, for the post.
Wednesday’s session to elect a new CM was called by the deputy speaker of the provincial assembly, Dost Muhammad Mazari, who subsequently faced a no-trust resolution which was moved against him by PTI and PML-Q lawmakers. A provincial assembly secretariat was also circulated thereafter saying the powers delegated to the deputy speaker had been withdrawn with immediate effect.
The opposition parties’ session on Wednesday was presided over by Shazia Abid of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in which 199 legislators voted for Hamza Shehbaz of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
It remains unclear what the legal and constitutional validity of the session held at Lahore’s Faletti's Hotel is but speaking to Arab News Khalil Tahir Sindhu, the PML-N chief whip, said it was a “legal voting session” where around 200 members of Punjab Assembly would vote for Hamza Shehbaz.
Participants of the political gathering had already prepared a petition regarding the oath taking of the “new chief minister” that would be submitted in the Lahore High Court on Thursday to legitimize the election, he said.
Asked about the legal value of the notification issued by the deputy speaker to hold the session, he said: “There is a constitutional crisis in the country and we are headed toward anarchy. No one knows what is going to happen.”
Wednesday’s session was presided over by PPP MPA Shazia Abid, who cited the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab 1997, which allows a member of the panel of chairmen to preside over a session of the provincial assembly in the absence of the speaker and deputy speaker.
Despite the refusal of the PTI to accept these proceedings as legal, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz tweeted that the session was not merely ‘symbolic’. “God willing, the PML-N is going to prove its majority.”
“Hamza Shehbaz Sharif with 199 votes elected as Chief Minister Punjab. Shukar Alhamdolillah,” she said in a separate tweet.
However, Mian Mehmood Ur Rasheed, a senior PTI leader who also signed the no-confidence resolution against the deputy speaker, said a notification about a CM’s election “on a plain paper without a diary number” was in violation of the rules of business and held no legal value.
He said the assembly session could not be held at the building since it was undergoing repair and maintenance work after PML-N leaders “vandalized” it, adding this was also the reason the session had been scheduled at a later date instead of today.
Asked why media persons were not allowed inside the building to witness the repair work, he said “everyone saw the destruction of the building done by PML-N leaders on television.”
Speaking to Arab News, former secretary election commission Kunwar Dilshad said the country was witnessing the “biggest political and constitutional crisis of its history.”
“Absolute clarity can only be attained,” he said, “only by a clearcut order from the Supreme Court now.”