LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Friday restored Chaudhary Parvez Elahi as the Punjab Chief Minister after he assured them that he would not dissolve the provincial assembly.
A larger bench, headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and comprising Justices Justices Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal, Tariq Saleem Sheikh, Asim Hafeez and Muzamil Akhtar Shabir, issued the ruling on a petition filed by Elahi against his denotification as chief minister by Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman.
The court has also reinstated the cabinet of the Punjab chief minister, which was also dissolved in line with an order of the governor.
At the outset of today’s hearing, Elahi’s counsel Barrister Ali Zafar explained to the bench how his client was elected as the chief minister. He also mentioned the Supreme Court verdict which ruled in favour of the PML-Q leader.
Then, Zafar explained the two constitutional steps that can be used to remove a chief minister.
“A chief minister is elected by an assembly and can be removed via a vote of confidence. The second process is to ask the chief minister to take a vote of confidence,” said Zafar. He added that if the governor feels the chief minister has lost his majority, then a session can be called in for the purpose.
“If PTI says that it is not with the chief minister then it can be said that Elahi has lost the majority but the governor cannot ask the CM to take a vote of confidence in two hours,” said Zafar.
“All members need to be sent a notice,” maintained Elahi’s counsel. He added that at times some lawmakers are abroad so the speaker can give 10 days of notice.
“It is also possible that the speaker holds voting immediately,” remarked Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh. It is not necessary to give a 10-day notice, he added.
At this, Zafar told the judge that the whole process [of summoning the assembly session] is between the governor and the speaker. He added that setting a date is the prerogative of the speaker.
“What the governor did [denotifying the chief minister] does not mean that the CM failed to secure the vote of confidence. The chief minister does not have the authority to call a session of the assembly,” said Zafar.
“Are you saying that summoning the session is the speaker’s prerogative,” asked Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh. To this, Zafar responded in the affirmative.
“The law uses the word secretary then how is it the speaker’s prerogative,” asked Justice Sheikh.
Zafar then told the bench that Rule 24 states that the speaker convenes and adjourns the session.
Justice Sheikh told Zafar that the question is about an appropriate time frame.
“According to the Constitution, the governor can summon a session. Under the rules, the speaker gives the date of the meeting,” said Zafar. The chief minister has to come and take the vote of confidence he cannot take it in the air, said Barrister Zafar.
“The governor cannot say that the chief minister did not take the vote of confidence. When there was no session then how can the CM could have taken the vote of trust,” asked Zafar.
The counsel contended that there was disagreement between the governor and the speaker on calling the meeting.
At this point, Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh interjected and remarked that there has been no voting, adding that if the PML-Q and PTI have the majority then there is no issue and a time can be given.
“For now we only want the suspension of the notification for removal from office. The governor concluded that Parvez Elahi avoided taking the vote of confidence,” said Zafar. He also claimed that the governor violated his oath.
“If there is no cabinet, then there is no government under Mustafa Ampex case,” remarked Justice Abid.
Then, Justice Sheikh asked that if the high court reinstates the chief minister immediately, will he dissolve the assembly. “A similar matter came up during the Manzoor Wattoo case. So, can you give us an undertaking that the assembly will not be dissolved?”
In response, Barrister Zafar said that since a no-confidence motion has been moved, the assembly cannot be dissolved. The court then told the lawyer that the no-confidence motion has been withdrawn.
“If your [client] dissolves the assembly, then the petition will become ineffective and a new crisis will be upon us,” the court remarked.
The court then asked Zafar to consult his client and adjourned the hearing for 10 minutes.
Once the hearing resumed, Barrister Zafar said that he would not be able to provide an undertaking to the court as of now and urged the court to reinstate the chief minister and order him to not dissolve the assembly.
In response, the LHC bench noted that the court could not give interim relief to anyone without any assurance. “How can the court stop the chief minister from exercising his constitutional right?” Justice Hafeez asked.
The court then adjourned the hearing once again, this time for an hour and asked the lawyer to consult his client.