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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 484, 23 December 2022

Punjab's constitutional and political crisis



Governor removes chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi,

D. Suba Chandran

The governor of Punjab, yesterday (22 December 2022), issued a notification removing Chaudhry Parvez Elahi as the province's chief minister. Earlier, the governor had asked him to prove a vote of confidence in the provincial assembly by yesterday; since the chief minister could not do it, the governor issued a statement that he is “satisfied that (Chaudhry Parvez Elahi) does not command the confidence of the majority of the members of the Punjab Assembly, and therefore cease to hold his office with immediate effect.” The statement, also has asked Elahi to hold the office, “until his successor enters.”

The governor has quoted the constitution’s provisions for demanding the chief minister to prove a vote of confidence and subsequently remove him and his cabinet as well. Between the governor’s demand and the chief minister’s removal, there was a mini-climax, when the speaker of the assembly ruled against the vote of confidence, which the former called it “unconstitutional and illegal.” All the above are likely to be debated in the court as Parvez Elahi files against his removal. So, one more round of intervention by the judiciary on the chief minister of Punjab. As the editorial is being written, the Lahore High Court is already reviewing the Governor's notification.

The issue is not the constitutionality of the governor’s demand and ultimatum to the chief minister to prove his majority, or the subsequent removal of the latter for failing to do so. It is the politics of using (by the PTI) or preventing the use (by the PDM) of the provincial assembly to achieve a national objective. The PTI wants to use the Punjab assembly (along with the KP’s) as a strategy to pressure the national government in Islamabad to yield to Imran’s demand for an early election. The PDM (led by the PPP and the PML-N), on the other hand, not only wants to prevent Imran from using Punjab provincial assembly dissolution as a strategy, but also to capture it. The PML-N has still not accepted its earlier defeat when its candidate Hamza Shehbaz could not continue as the chief minister.

The ruling coalition’s strategy at the national level is to prevent Imran from dissolving the provincial assemblies. With Parvez Elahi removed as a CM, he will not be in a position to call for the dissolution; this buys more time for the PML-N and PPP to pursue further political manoeuvring in Punjab, and have a breathing space in Islamabad.

The larger issue is the numbers in Punjab’s provincial assembly. Of the 371 members assembly, the PTI has 180, PML-N has 167, followed by PML-Q (10), PPP (7) and independents (6). The PML-Q is a part of the PTI coalition; however, there are differences recently between the two parties over how they look at the role of the Establishment. While Imran has been on an anti-Establishment (especially anti-Bajwa) tirade, PML-Q and the Chaudhrys are cautious. Parvez Elahi non-adherence to the governor’s demand for a vote of confidence indicates that all is not well within the PTI and PML-Q. 

The big picture is: that the most prominent and politically important province of Pakistan – Punjab, remains unstable. This should be a cause for concern for the Establishment; however, it should also take responsibility. Had it not been for its efforts in political engineering in the last elections to prevent the PML-N from winning Punjab, this should not have happened.

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