Pervaiz Elahi back in the saddle

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday restored Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as Punjab chief minister and his cabinet on the assurance that the provincial assembly would not be dissolved, suspending Governor Balighur Rehman’s de-notification order.

A five-member LHC bench, headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh, also sought replies from the quarters concerned as well as the viewpoint of the governor by January 11, 2023. The bench also issued notices to the attorney general for Pakistan and the Punjab advocate general, seeking their legal assistance.

Governor Rehman issued an order in the wee hours of Friday to de-notify the chief minister and dissolve his cabinet after Elahi did not take a vote of confidence from the provincial assembly by Wednesday as ordered by the governor on Monday.

Elahi challenged the governor’s order in the LHC. During the hearing of the chief minister’s de-notification case, Elahi gave a written assurance to the court that he would not dissolve the provincial assembly if he was reinstated as the chief minister.

Elahi’s counsel barrister Ali Zafar read the undertaking in the court. “I, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, Chief Minister Punjab, undertake that if the Governor’s order is suspended and the Chief Minister and Cabinet restored to its original position, I shall not advise the Governor to dissolve the Assembly till the next date of hearing,” it said.

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The court ordered that the operation of governor’s order would be held in abeyance till the next date of hearing and added that this order would not preclude the petitioner from taking vote of confidence on his own accord. After the order, Elahi and his cabinet were reinstated till January 11, the next date of hearing.

Earlier, Barrister Ali Zafar, the lawyer for the chief minister, requested the court that there was urgency in the matter because only the chief minister was asked to continue in the governor’s order till the election of new chief minister but the provincial cabinet was also required to run day-to-day affairs of the government.

He argued that the governor under Article 130(7) of the Constitution could only ask the petitioner to take vote of confidence if he was satisfied that the circumstances existed that the chief minister had lost confidence of the majority of the assembly members, adding that that satisfaction must be based on objective assessment.

Barrister Zafar added that the perusal of the governor’s order of December 19, showed that grounds based on which satisfaction was alleged did not fulfil the objective criteria to invoke the jurisdiction under Article 130(7) of the Constitution.

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At that point, Justice Sheikh observed that the governor’s order should be complied with if he [the governor] had required that the chief minister obtain the vote of confidence. However, Zafar insisted on a reasonable timeframe.

It did not mean that the governor got up early in the morning and pass an order to the chief minister for getting vote of confidence, He argued. Justice Sheikh asked what was the harm if the chief minister was got vote of confidence.

The court further remarked that the petitioner could be awarded interim relief by suspending the governor’s orders and restoring him to his earlier position if an undertaking was submitted before the court that the Punjab assembly would not be dissolved.

Justice Sheikh remarked that the bench wanted a balance between both the parties, stressing that it did not want anyone to use its order for wrong purpose. The court made it clear to Elahi’s lawyer that interim relief would be given to the petitioner if he came up with an undertaking about not dissolving the assembly.

While submitting the undertaking of the chief minister, Barrister Zafar also read it before the court. At which Advocate Khalid Ishaque, who appeared on behalf of respondent, submitted that the governor was ready to withdraw his orders if the petitioner took the vote of confidence within a period of seven days.

Advocate Ishaque, who was representing the governor without submitting the power of attorney also submitted that the petitioner should also undertake that he would not dissolve the Assembly within that period. The LHC asked the governor to submit an undertaking that he was withdrawing his order.

The five-judge bench comprised Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh, Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, Justice Asim Hafeez and Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabir. Earlier Justice Farooq Haider was included in the bench but he recused himself from hearing the petition.

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