PAKISTAN: The Punjab Assembly (PA) session, which was scheduled to begin at 11:30am today to elect the new chief minister, has finally begun after chaos inside the legislature caused a delay of more than five hours and saw Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari attacked, while PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi was injured.
Once the session got underway, PTI and PML-Q lawmakers staged a walkout, 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 Elahi intubated and with a bandage wrapped around his right forearm.
He alleged that PML-N MPA Rana Mashood broke his hand. “During his (Shehbaz’s) exile, I took care of Hamza [Shehbaz] but today he showed his reality,” he said. “This is Sharif’s democracy. They have crossed the limits today.”
Elahi later told Dawn News that PML-N had “taken revenge” from him today and and accused Punjab Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan of acting directly on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s directives.
“He (Shehbaz) sent the IG to the House. Police can never enter the House. This has happened for the first time in the history of Pakistan,” he said.
“The court does not listen to me either,” Elahi complained.
Deputy speaker attacked, pelted with lotas
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 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 Elahi.
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. They will identify the MPAs who attacked the deputy speaker and arrest them.
‘LHC should take suo motu notice’
In a media talk outside the Punjab Assembly following the ruckus, PML-N leader Attaullah Tarar blamed Parvez Elahi and his “group of gangsters” for everything that happened inside the legislature.
“What happened today was a huge violation of the law and Constitution,” he said. “Today, the deputy speaker was attacked. This is an incident of terrorism. I have heard Chaudhry Parvez Elahi wants to get one or two people murdered.”
He added that Elahi had been encouraging the MPAs when they attacked the deputy speaker.
Tarar called on the Lahore High Court to take suo motu notice of the incident and initiate action against the culprits. “We are here and won’t move till midnight.”
‘Courts can’t interfere in proceedings’
Meanwhile, Elahi blamed the PML-N for bringing the police inside the legislature “for the first time since the creation of assemblies”.
“Who is police to enter the assembly?” the PML-Q leader said. “We will make sure the inspector general of police (IGP) appears before us and he will be punished for a month.”
He said that under the Constitution, the courts can’t interfere in assembly proceedings. Speaking to the media, he said that the whole issue started when the court intervened in the matter and questioned how it could dictate what could and could not happen during proceedings.
“The powers of the deputy speaker lie with the speaker of the assembly,” he said, adding that the speaker could delegate his powers.
He said he had delegated his powers to the deputy speaker as he was contesting the election for the chief minister of the province. “I stepped down for the sake of free and fair elections. [But] if the deputy speaker misuses his powers on the wrongful backing of the courts, it was going to be challenged.”
He went on to say that when the Lahore High Court gave the order allowing the deputy speaker to conduct the session, they suspended his powers as speaker of the house. “This is illegal,” he said.
He added that the real “fight” ensued after police entered the assembly, which had not happened before in the country’s history. “In my opinion, there can be no bigger stain on democracy than this,” he said.
He regretted the fact that treasury lawmakers were bribed into changing sides after being promised money and ministries. “They were shifted to three hotels and from there they were brought [to the assembly] in buses.”
Politicians condemn attack on Mazari
The attack on Mazari and the ruckus inside the provincial assembly was strongly crticised by the government and PML-N leaders.
Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said the attack on the deputy speaker “must be condemned in strongest terms possible” and declared the violence inside the assembly “fascism”.
PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz followed suit and called out PTI for resorting to “hooliganism” in the face of defeat. “No matter what you do, the right of Punjab will be given to it today,” she promised.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that the attack on the PA deputy speaker was an attack on the courts who had ruled to conduct the election today, the democracy, the Constitution, the federation and the people of South Punjab.
PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said, “Imran Niazi is hell-bent [on creating] anarchy at all levels.” He added that the former prime minister was trying to follow Hitler’s disciple.
PML-N’s Rana Sanaullah, on the other hand, demanded action be taken against PTI and PML-Q leaders for “desecrating the assembly”.
Meanwhile, writer Hina Parvez Butt cautioned that what happened in the assembly today was seen across the world. “The image of Pakistan is being lowered,” she regretted.
The Punjab Assembly ruckus was also denounced in the National Assembly session today and a resolution was passed which demanded that the “trend of violence” must be stopped.
A tough contest is expected for the top slot between the ruling coalition (PMLQ and PTI) candidate Parvez Elahi and PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz, who is the joint opposition’s candidate. Both candidates, along with their supporters, had arrived at the PA in the morning.
Elahi is currently the speaker of the house but since he is one of the candidates for chief minister, he cannot preside the session.
Elaborate security arrangements have been made in and around the assembly to prevent any untoward incident before and after the chief minister’s election. Paramilitary Rangers have also been called in to support police.
Ahead of the proceedings, Mazari, who had been restored to his position after the Lahore High Court overturned Speaker Elahi’s order of withdrawing his powers, told journalists that he would ensure “fair and transparent” elections were held today.
“I have given media persons access to the assembly so that they can see how the proceedings are held,” he said.
The deputy speaker stated there might be efforts to further delay the voting but “remember I won’t take pressure”.
In today’s session, he revealed, everyone would be allowed to vote including defecting MPAs. “According to Article 63-A, defectors will be allowed to vote. After the session, the party chief will see what needs to be done with them,” Mazari added.
Meanwhile, the PTI-PML-Q candidate, Elahi, expressed his distrust in Mazari saying that today’s sitting would prove if he was honest or had “other intentions”. Earlier, he had also accused the deputy speaker of taking money from Hamza.
The magic number
To be elected as chief minister, a candidate would need at least 186 votes in the 371-member house. In the Punjab Assembly, the PTI has 183 lawmakers, PML-Q 10, PML-N 165, PPP seven, five are independent and one belongs to Rah-i-Haq.
The decisive factor in the election is expected to be the support of dissident PTI lawmakers that are part of the Jahangir Tarin and Aleem Khan groups, which have the support of around 24 lawmakers. Both groups have already announced they are backing opposition candidate Hamza Shehbaz.
Meanwhile, Dawn reported that the PTI coalition candidate Parvez Elahi had failed to muster the support of 186 MPAs required to win the chief minister election, and was now hoping that the joint opposition would also not be able to show the magic number.
According to a dissident PTI member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the PML-Q’s only hope is that the opposition fails to show 186 MPAs for Hamza Shehbaz’s election and both sides may then go for a ‘run-off’ election and show a higher number of MPAs on its side.
“All the 24 dissident [PTI] MPAs are standing with the opposition as they were hurt by their party leaders in its three years and eight months rule in the Centre and Punjab,” the MPA added.
Elahi’s spokesman Fayyazul Hassan Chohan said that the candidate having 186 votes would become chief minister and if no one shows the magic number, any candidate who has the support of more members would become the Punjab chief minister.
He urged the dissident MPAs to return to their party as they, under the law, would not get any benefit from the PML-N government. Instead, Chohan said, they would be unseated and disqualified through a process by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
He claimed that the dissident MPAs had started contacting Elahi as they were being pressurised by their families due to former PM Imran Khan’s popularity in the public.
Chaos over CM election
The Punjab Assembly had to elect the new leader of the house after Usman Buzdar’s resignation last month. However, the elections have been stalled since.
Since Elahi was contesting for the CM elections, he could not assume his role as the speaker of the assembly, after which the speaker’s role was passed on to the deputy speaker.
The voting, which was first supposed to held on April 3, 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 April 16.
However, in a late night development on April 5, Mazari superseded his earlier order and summoned the assembly to meet at 7:30pm on April 6 — 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 April 16 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 April 6, Elahi, using his powers as speaker, declared the deputy speaker’s ‘order’ to summon the session ‘illegal’.
The PML-Q leader had 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 PTI-PML-Q coalition.
Meanwhile, the assembly premises was 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 April 6, 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 by Hamza. He demanded “free and fair” elections be held immediately.
During the hearings that followed, LHC CJ Ameer Bhatti restored Mazari’s powers and instructed him to hold the elections on the fixed date of April 16.
However, the decision was challenged by Elahi. Yesterday, a two members bench comprising Justice Shujaat Ali Khan and Justice Jawad Hassan rejected the PML-Q leader’s plea and directed the deputy speaker to conduct the elections.
The bench also instructed Mazari to facilitate national/international observers, media persons, representatives of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, Free and Fair Election Network and other organisations during the election.