Down, but not out: How PML-N plans to keep Hamza Shahbaz in office

Punched in the gut by voters, ruling PML-N received a thumping in by-elections held in its heartland, Punjab

Benazir Shah
Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz speaks during the launching of the Roshan Gharana Programme on Monday. — APP
Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz speaks during the launching of the "Roshan Gharana Programme" on Monday. — APP

Punched in the gut by voters, the ruling PML-N received a thumping in by-elections held in its heartland, Punjab, on Sunday.

Of the 20 consistencies up for grabs, 15 seats fell to its rival, the PTI, while the PML-N could only secure four.

Now, the PML-N could suffer a double blow if its chief minister in the province, Hamza Shahbaz, is sent packing on July 22 in the run-up election for the office.

Before the House votes, the PTI is insisting that Hamza Shahbaz resign, as the PTI has a comfortable majority in the Punjab Assembly. But the PML-N insists that the PTI should not be so sure of forming a government in Pakistan's most politically important province.

Should Hamza Shahbaz quit office?

The former leader of the opposition, Hamza Shahbaz, was elected chief minister with a whopping 197 votes in the Punjab assembly on April 16. But the election quickly became controversial, as 25 members of the provincial assembly from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf voted for PML-N’s Hamza Shahbaz, against their own party’s candidate, Pervaiz Elahi.

In a recent verdict, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered reelection for the chief minister on July 22.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the think tank Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), disagrees with the PTI’s demand.

“There is no confusion here, a chief minister has to be in office till a new one is appointed,” he told, over the phone, “This is in our constitution. Hamza Shahbaz should continue till July 22 and then whoever wins will be elected chief minister. Just like Usman Buzdar stayed in office till Hamza Shahbaz’s election.”

Mehboob added that at the moment it seems that the PTI-supported candidate will be elected chief minister.

In the 371-member strong Punjab assembly, a chief minister must have a simple majority, therefore 186 votes, to be elected chief minister. But since the top court has called for a second round of the election, votes of only those MPAs present in the House on the day of the election will be counted, and whoever secures the majority will win.

After Sunday’s by-polls, the PTI and its ally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), have substantial support of 188 MPAs.

Will Hamza Shahbaz survive July 22?

The minister for power Khurram Dastgir Khan told Dawn TV that the PML-N has the support of 181 MPAs in the Punjab assembly. A number includes lawmakers from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), four independent lawmakers and one from the Rah-e-Haq party.

This would mean that the PML-N is short of five votes to reach the 186, simple majority, threshold.

Ayaz Sadiq, a senior PML-N leader, is also certain that the four independent MPAs will side with the PML-N and vote for Hamza on Friday. 

“Then, we have our own people (MPAs), except those who have resigned,” he told Prior to the by-election, two PML-N’s disgruntled MPAs, Faisal Khan Niazi and Mian Jaleel Ahmed Sharaqpuri submitted their resignations to the speaker.

When asked if the rebel MPAs can be brought back into the party’s fold and vote for the PML-N, Sadiq said it could happen. “We are very confident of a win,” he added.

The PML-N is also looking at divisions within the PML-Q, an ally of the PTI, on the day. The PML-Q has 10 lawmakers in the Punjab assembly.

When asked if there could be a split in the PML-Q, Sadiq said, “Why not? Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain is the president of the PML-Q. The MPAs will have to vote as per the direction of the party president. That is what we are expecting and counting on.”

The PML-N leader also claimed that July 22 will not be easy for the PTI to secure a win. “It will be a good contest,” he said, “And we are not going to go without a fight.”