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Punjab C.M. Re-election Scheduled for July 22

Supreme Court says decision based on consensus of all stakeholders, with voting to take place after July 17 by-elections

by Newsweek Pakistan

Courtesy LHC

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Friday announced that the re-election for the Punjab chief minister will be conducted on July 22, allowing for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to regain its reserved seats and for the results of the July 17 by-elections to be announced.

Earlier on Friday, the PTI had approached the Supreme Court to challenge the orders of the Lahore High Court on holding a recount for the Punjab chief minister’s election of April 16. Filed by Leader of Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Sibtain Khan, Zainab Umair, Mian Muhammad Aslam Iqbal, Syed Abbas Ali Shah and Ahsan Saleem Bharyar, it had named C.M. Hamza Shehbaz, the Punjab government, Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari, the Punjab governor’s secretary and the Punjab Assembly secretary as the respondents.

The plea had sought an immediate hearing and had requested that Hamza be removed as chief minister and the recounting process suspended until a ruling had been issued on the plea. It had also contended that the LHC’s order for an immediate recount should be altered to allow sufficient time for all lawmakers to ensure their presence in the Punjab Assembly.

In its ruling, the LHC had ordered recounting of the votes cast during the Punjab chief minister’s election after excluding the votes of 25 PTI dissidents, adding that if neither candidate secured 186 votes in that scenario, it would proceed to a second round of voting to determine simple majority.

In Friday’s Supreme Court hearing—which lasted much of the day with several recesses to allow the stakeholders to compromise on their positions—Punjab Assembly Speaker Pervaiz Elahi, one of the candidate for the chief minister, initially told judges that he was willing to accept Hamza Shehbaz as chief minister until July 17, when by-elections would be held on 20 seats of the provincial assembly. However, the PTI disagreed with this, maintaining that Hamza as chief minister was “unacceptable.”

In a bid to break the deadlock, a three-member bench of the top court—Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Aijazul Ahsan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail—directed Elahi to speak with PTI Chairman Imran Khan and formulate a joint solution. After a brief recess, all parties agreed that Hamza would remain the chief minister till the re-election on July 22.

During the proceedings, PTI’s counsel Babar Awan said the election should be delayed because several of the PTI’s lawmakers were not in Lahore, with some performing Haj, and needed more than 24 hours’ notice to reach Lahore for the election. To this, the court questioned why it should intervene to ensure sufficient time for “some” lawmakers to be present for the election.

In response, Awan said the PTI was asking for 7 more days—which would not be sufficient for Haj congregants to return—adding that they would prefer 10 days. The court said it could not permit Punjab to be operated without a chief minister for this much time and sought suggestions for who would be the chief executive of the province in the interim.

Several options were proposed, including imposing governor’s rule until the elections, which the chief justice rejected as being “unconstitutional.”

While accepting that the elections should not take place immediately, the court summoned both Hamza Shehbaz and Pervez Elahi and sought their input on when they felt the polling should take place. Elahi said that sides could give a mutual decision after consultation, while Hamza maintained that he was ready for elections whenever the court ordered them, whether now or on July 17.

Justice Ahsan told Elahi that he had two options: either accept Hamza as the C.M. or give a date for the re-election. He also sought to reassure the opposition that none of its lawmakers would be arrested until the elections took place.

Awan, meanwhile, said that the PTI chairman had agreed to accept Hamza as the “interim” C.M. until July 17 on the assurance that Opposition members would not be arrested until the re-polling. He also demanded assurances that the by-elections would be transparent. To this, the CJP questioned Hamza if he planned to “rig” the elections, which the PMLN leader responded to by saying there would be no rigging.

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