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Lahore: The Lahore High Court (LHC) will today (Wednesday) resume hearing Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi’s plea challenging Governor Balighur Rehman’s orders to de-notify him as the provincial chief executive.
The hearing coincides with an ongoing Punjab Assembly session which has been marred by two consecutive days of protests from the opposition, who are demanding Elahi take the vote of confidence.
Last month, the Punjab governor denotified Elahi as chief minister of the largest province in a bid to forestall ousted premier Imran Khan’s plan to dissolve the Punjab Assembly (PA).
In his order dated Dec 22, the governor had said that since the chief minister had refrained from taking a vote of confidence at the appointed day and time, he ceased to hold office. Rehman, however, had asked Elahi to continue working as chief minister until a successor takes charge.
Subsequently, Elahi approached the court, saying the move was “unconstitutional, unlawful and of no legal effect”.
At the previous hearing, the LHC had reinstated the PML-Q leader as the chief minister after he submitted an undertaking assuring the court that he would not dissolve the provincial assembly until the next hearing (today).
A five-member bench comprising Justice Abid Aziz Shaikh, Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, Justice Asim Hafeez and Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabir took up the plea.
Meanwhile, a report today said that the PML-N leadership has ordered the presence of the maximum number of its MPAs in the court during the hearing.
The petition, filed by Elahi, named the Punjab governor through his principal secretary, the government of Punjab through its chief secretary and the PA speaker as respondents.
The application was submitted through Barrister Ali Zafar and Advocate Amir Saeed.
It said that on December 19, Governor Rehman issued an order summoning a PA session and requiring the chief minister to seek a vote of confidence from the house.
“In response to the order, the PA speaker gave a ruling declaring the summoning of the session to be unconstitutional and adjourned the ongoing session till Dec 22.”
The petition stated that both of Rehman’s order — for the vote of confidence and the de-notification — was passed “without lawful authority and are of no legal effect”.
It reasoned that the governor’s order regarding summoning a PA session was illegal under the Constitution and Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab 1997.
“Without prejudice to the unconstitutionality of Respondent 1’s [the governor] act of summoning the session of Punjab Assembly during an already ongoing session, it is respectfully submitted that the governor neither the appointing authority of the petitioner nor has the power to remove the petitioner, and there is no constitutional provision enabling the Respondent No. 1 to pass the impugned order dated 22.12.2022 and declaring that the Petitioner ceases to hold his office of Chief Minister Punjab.”
The petition went on to say that Rehman’s order was “not sustainable because it has been passed due to grave misconstruction of the fact.
“It is further prayed that it may kindly be declared that the summoning of the session of the Punjab Assembly by the governor during an already ongoing session is unconstitutional, unlawful and of no legal effect,” it requested.
The petition pleads that the court should declare that there was no eventuality which lead to the conclusion that Elahi did not command the majority of the members of the provincial assembly.
After Imran’s announcement of the assemblies’ dissolution, the coalition leaders sprung into action to prevent Elahi from dissolving the Punjab Assembly.
In a double-edged move on Dec 20, 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.
However, 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.
Subsequently, on Dec 21, the Punjab governor termed the speaker’s ruling “unconstitutional”.
In his order, the governor said under Article 130(7) of the Constitution that PA speaker’s ruling had no bearing on his order and termed it unconstitutional. The governor said the speaker’s ruling was also in violation of Rule 209 of the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab, 1
In a late-night move on Dec 23, the governor de-notified Elahi. In an order, he said: “Consequent to the facts that Ch. Parvez Elahi … refrained from obtaining the vote of confidence at 1600 hours yesterday (Wednesday), in line with an order under Article 130(7) of the Constitution … issued under my hand on Dec 19, 2022, in line with Rule 22(7) of the Rules of Procedure of provincial assembly of Punjab, 1997, and that he still has not done so even after the lapse of another 24 hours, I am satisfied that he does not command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Punjab Assembly, and therefore ceases to hold his office with immediate effect.”
As a result, “the provincial cabinet stands dissolved forthwith”, he said.
In terms of Article 133 of the Constitution, Mr Elahi, “former Punjab CM, is hereby asked to continue to hold office until his successor enters upon the office of the chief minister”, the governor said.