Elahi’s vote of confidence: Punjab governor declares PA speaker’s ruling ‘unconstitutional’

Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman declared on Wednesday the ruling of Punjab Assembly Speaker Sibtain Khan regarding Chief Minister Pervez Elahi’s vote of confidence as “unconstitutional” and “illegal”.

“Your [the speaker’s] ruling has no bearing,” he said.

Today’s developments

  • Governor Balighur Rehman rejects Punjab Assembly Speaker Sibtain Khan’s ruling and declares it “unconstitutional”.
  • Chief Minister Pervez Elahi fails to take a vote of confidence from the provincial assembly despite orders from governor.
  • Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah says the governor can denotify the CM anytime.
  • PTI claims party MPAs being offered bribes.
  • Elahi affirms PML-Q standing with PTI.

On December 19, the governor had instructed the chief minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the provincial assembly by 4pm today.

However, on Tuesday, Punjab Assembly Speaker Sibtain Khan termed the governor’s orders as “illegal, against the provisions of the Constitution and thus stand disposed of”.

In his two-page ruling, the speaker maintained that the governor’s orders were not in accordance with Article 54(3) and Article 127. “The house is in session since Oct 23, 2022, and under Articles 54(3) and 127. No fresh session can be convened unless and until the current one ends,” the order read.

In a four-page response to the speaker today, the governor addressed two main concerns raised in Khan’s ruling — which had said that the governor could not summon a fresh assembly session until the current session was prorogued and that there was a minimum mandatory 10-day period for the chief minister to obtain a confidence vote.

Regarding the first concern, the governor said he had implied in his Dec 19 order that “if the ongoing session was prorogued by your good self (PA speaker)” any time before 4pm today then “a new session was required to be summoned” at 4pm today for the vote of confidence.

“In the alternate, a sitting of the assembly at the noted time and date could have been summoned in the 41st session of the assembly, which your good self has also noted that it was summoned by me and was never prorogued; or a fresh session specifically summoned for the purposes of requiring the chief minister to obtain the vote of confidence,” the order reads.

The governor said that the Constitution did not prevent Article 130(7) from taking effect if the assembly was already under session. “Your reading of the Constitution essentially renders Article 130(7) redundant.”

Rehman’s order added that the PA speaker’s reliance on a Lahore High Court judgment was “misplaced inasmuch as the facts and circumstances involved in this judgment are clearly distinguishable”.

The governor further pointed out that the PA speaker’s ruling violated Rule 209 of the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab, 1997.

“Under sub-rule (1), a ruling on interpretation and enforcement of the relevant articles of the Constitution as regulate the business of the assembly can only be given on a ‘point of order’. It is evident that no point of order was raised on the floor of the house on December 20, and as it seems, your good self has given the ruling in your office, which is in violation of Rule 209(1),” the order explained.

Governor Rehman noted that as the “custodian of the house and holder of an esteemed constitutional office”, it was imperative for the PA speaker not to act in a “partisan manner; or for that matter, in any other way that violates your oath”.

“I would like to draw your attention that, as per the Constitution, the assembly’s currently being in session or otherwise does not have any effect whatsoever on the operation of Article 130(7).”

The order said the PA speaker’s ruling and actions had enabled the chief minister in refraining from the confidence vote

“Helping and aiding the chief minister in refraining from fulfilling his duty and preventing the constitutional process to proceed to its logical end leads to the consequences stipulated in Rule 22 (7) of the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab, 1997,” it concluded.

Governor can denotify Elahi anytime, says Sanaullah

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has said that the governor can denotify the chief minister “at any time”, elaborating that it was his right to do so.

“In our opinion, when the chief minister didn’t summon 4pm session and the speaker didn’t play his constitutional role then the chief minister no longer remains at his office. This is the constitutional position,” he said in an interview with Geo News.

Sanaullah also rejected the PTI’s allegations about attempted horsetrading.

Earlier, the minister also tweeted that PTI could not “resist” the Constitution.

“We know that they don’t have the numbers required. If they do [have the requisite numbers], then go for the vote of confidence,” the minister said.

PTI claims party MPAs being offered bribes by Zardari

On the other hand, the PTI has claimed that former president Asif Ali Zardari was offered bribes to party MPAs.

“The MPAs told Imran Khan that they got calls in Multan and Lahore […] they were told to abstain and remain missing from the vote of confidence [against Elahi], but they rejected that too,” PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said in a media talk.

Separately, in a tweet, he said that Elahi had the “complete support” of 187 members of the provincial assembly.

“Ten lawmakers of PML-Q have also expressed confidence in the chief minister. Tomorrow, 177 PTI MPAs will gather in favour of Elahi,” he stated, adding that the political crisis in Punjab was a reflection of the need for snap polls.

Elahi says PML-Q ‘wholeheartedly’ standing with PTI

CM Elahi has said that his party was “wholeheartedly” standing with PTI chairman Imran Khan.

“Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam is united and will remain united. Rumor mongers are following a specific agenda,” he tweeted, adding that the “nefarious intentions” of those propagating differences will fail.

Govt makes moves against Elahi

After days of hectic politicking, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance on Monday sprang its own trap to limit the options available to Elahi ahead of the Imran Khan-announced dissolution of the provincial assembly, which is supposed to happen this Friday.

In a double-edged move, the Punjab governor asked the chief minister to obtain a vote of confidence from the Punjab Assembly, while PML-N and PPP lawmakers submitted a separate no-trust resolution against him in a bid to bar him from dissolving the assembly.

The move followed a meeting of party leaders from the PDM coalition, chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Under the law, the chief minister cannot dissolve the assembly if a no-confidence motion has been moved against him, while the governor’s requirement for the CM to seek a vote of confidence from the house means he has to ensure that he manages to secure 186 votes.

The PTI has 177 while the PML-Q has 10 members in the Punjab Assembly. On the other hand, the opposition boasts a combined 176 members from the PML-N, PPP and Rah-i-Haq parties.

Legal experts, however, believe if the chief minister fails to win vote of confidence in the timeframe set by Governor Balighur Rehman, the office of Chief Minister would fall vacant — plunging the province into a deep constitutional crisis.

They said this would also expose the practitioner to legal consequences over the purported obstruction. “Those facilitating such constitutional misadventure can be proceeded against as such,” cautioned Advocate Usama Khawar. It would exactly be the same position when during the no-confidence motion against then-prime minister Imran Khan in April [this year], the court later held few individuals guilty of violating the Constitution. “They were not proceeded against, but it cannot be held as precedent or guarantee that it would not happen next time,” he warned.

“Otherwise a figurehead of the province, especially after the 18th Amendment, Article 130 and its sub-clause 7 give discretionary powers to the governor – and do so for a reason. Like the president at the centre, it is the governor who initiates and sets the course of vote of confidence in the province. The chief minister holds office at his pleasure. This is constitution, not interpretation of it,” Mr Usama maintained.

Advocate Supreme Court Malik Awais Khalid agreed. “Article 130 and its sub-clause 7 that deal with the subject clearly state that the governor in his own satisfaction (read discretion) decides when, in his opinion, the chief minister requires a fresh mandate from the house.”

“This is an independent provision, which does not require contingent conditions…The only requirement is that he would fix the time for the chief minister to go through the process and that procedure is also final. If it is not completed within the fixed timeframe, the chief minister is considered to have lost the confidence of the house and his seat,” Mr Malik asserted.

Meanwhile, the experts were also clear about the consequences. “If the vote of confidence process is not completed by today afternoon, the incumbent chief minister would not only lose his office, but he cannot continue even as caretaker — a normal practice of keeping the seat warm till the next one is appointed,” they added.

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