Punjab’s political turmoil unlikely to abate as two PA sessions summoned today

Azam Malik
Faizan Bangash
Punjab Assembly building. — Punjab Assembly website
Punjab Assembly building. — Punjab Assembly website

  • Sources say backdoor contacts being made for reconciliation over two separate sessions.
  • Elahi directs MPAs, staff against attending governor's session.
  • Govt and allied parties to consult over how to hold the session without assembly.

LAHORE: Punjab's political turmoil seems unlikely to abate as two provincial assembly sessions have been summoned today (Wednesday).

Meanwhile, provincial government's failure to present the annual budget for fiscal year 2022-23 on the second consecutive day on Tuesday seems to have further deepened the political crisis in the province, The News reported.

Governor Balighur Rehman prorogued the assembly session on Tuesday, summoning it at the Aiwan-e-Iqbal today (Wednesday), but the deadlock with Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi continues as he refused to accept the governor's decision. Instead of going with the session at Aiwan-e-Iqbal, Elahi adjourned the assembly session till today. Therefore, it will be the first time that two separate sessions of the provincial assembly will be held.

The speaker's session has been called at 1pm while the session at Aiwan-e-Iqbal is scheduled to take place at 2pm.

The speaker is also at risk of losing his job if the PML-N moves a no-confidence motion against him in the session summoned by Rehman, which is most likely to be chaired by the PA deputy speaker.

As per legal experts, the Assembly session cannot be resumed when prorogued by the governor as he is the head of the province, and the speaker cannot summon another session. Therefore, the session summoned by Rehman is the legitimate one.

Sources said that backdoor contacts are being made for reconciliation over two separate sessions of the PA. They said that holding two sessions on the same day would affect the constitutional position of both the government and Opposition.

They said that PML-N might ask Elahi to chair the session at Aiwan-e-Iqbal.

Punjab law department decides to limit PA speaker's authorities: sources

Sources privy to the matter said that the Punjab's Ministry of Law has decided to limit the authorities of Elahi as the PA Speaker and a summary has been prepared in this regard.

They said that the amendments in the assembly's Rules of Business will be made through an ordinance.

'Complete political anarchy in Punjab since Hamza grabbed power': Imran Khan

Reacting to the political crisis in Punjab that intensified after repeated delays in the PA's budget session, PTI Chairman Imran Khan said that Punjab is in complete political anarchy in Punjab since Hamza grabbed power.

"Ever since Imported Crime Minister's corrupt son illegally grabbed power in Punjab thru a farcical election there is complete political anarchy in Pak's most populous province," Imran wrote on Twitter.

He further stated that it is just a "criminal mafia running riot" while the people suffer and farmers face threats to their crops.

"Police and local administration have become complicit with this mafia and had unleashed a reign of terror on peaceful PTI workers, leaders and their families. Now they feel they are not answerable before the people's elected leadership. We cannot allow such anarchy and criminal rule to prevail," he wrote.

Opposition summons parliamentary party's meeting

Amid efforts for a consensus over holding a single session of the PA, a meeting of the Opposition's parliamentary party has been called in the Assembly's meeting room.

Meanwhile, leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Sibtain Khan visited Elahi's residence to hold consultations over the PA session.

Sources said that Elahi has directed the assembly secretary and MPAs against attending the Aiwan-e-Iqbal session.

On the other hand, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz has summoned an important meeting which will be attended by the cabinet members, members of the allied parties. The meeting will discuss how to hold the session at Aiwan-e-Iqbal without the assembly staff as there is ambiguity over who will write down the assembly meeting’s minutes and how the motions will be presented.

Elahi declares session summoned by governor 'illegal'

However, Elahi declared the session summoned by Rehman illegal. Speaking to the media outside the Punjab Assembly Tuesday night, the politician said the session he was chairing was underway when the governor prorogued it.

"The governor is bound to write to the assembly secretary in order to prorogue the session as per the assembly rules. Neither can the session be held elsewhere when the assembly is there, nor can the deputy speaker chair it in the presence of speaker.

Punjab Assembly budget session called off once again

The budget session of the Punjab Assembly for the fiscal year 2022-23 was once again called off for the second consecutive day Tuesday. 

On Tuesday, the PA session began after a record delay of around eight and a half hours. Throughout the day, the deadlock between the speaker and government continued over the issue of IGP and the chief secretary whom Elahi had directed to appear before the House. The speaker had asked the IGP and chief secretary to apologise for the arrest of political workers besides calling for the withdrawal of cases against them. However, the Punjab government did not present both the officials before the House and the deadlock over this issue continued for hours.

Meanwhile, the US consul general and a delegation of federal ministers and state ministers called on Elahi. The PA session, which was scheduled to begin at 1pm, started after 9:30pm with Elahi in the chair. After the beginning of the session, the speaker read a notification issued by the Punjab governor and soon after it invited Awais Leghari to start the budget speech. However, Leghari refused to deliver the speech and said the session had been prorogued and the one chaired by him (the speaker) had no constitutional worth as the governor had summoned a fresh session.

Responding to this, Elahi said the governor had no authority, but the treasury benches started making a noise. “I hold you in great esteem but this session has no constitutional legality now after the governor prorogued it,” said Leghari. Elahi then adjourned the sitting till Wednesday, but PML-N MPAs walked out.

Under the rules, the speaker would be invited to chair the session at the Aiwan-e-Iqbal and if he did not accept the invitation, the deputy speaker would chair it, said PML-N MPA Samiullah Khan while talking to The News. The PML-N MPAs outside the Punjab Assembly came down hard on Elahi for bulldozing the rules of the House. In the session to be held at the Aiwan-e-Iqbal, Leghari will present the budget 2022-23. On the other hand, Elahi intends to chair the session at the PA.  

Postponement of Monday's session

The session of the assembly was originally scheduled to take place on Monday, June 13, but it could not take place. Consequently, it was postponed till 1pm on Tuesday as treasury benches continued protesting against each other.

The budget session was scheduled to begin at 2pm but started after several hours of delay. Once it started, the Opposition benches protested the presence of Punjab government spokesperson Attaullah Tarar in the assembly, as he was not a member.

“We will not let the budget be presented till [Chief Minister] Hamza Shahbaz is present in the house, while the inspector-general and chief secretary are sitting in the gallery,” the Opposition said.

Following the Opposition's protest, the Punjab Assembly speaker demanded the house’s guards escort Tarar out of the assembly and adjourned the session for 10 minutes.

Elahi — who lost the contest for the chief minister’s slot last month against Hamza Shahbaz — said that if Tarar was not out of the building within 10 minutes, he would adjourn the session till tomorrow.

After the break, the session resumed with Elahi in the chair, while Tarar exited the assembly in "protest".

Amid all the drama, the finance bill could not be presented.