April 18th, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
Independent observer groups PILDAT and FAFEN on Monday said the session of the Punjab Assembly for the election of the chief minister met the requirements as per Rule 20 and Second Schedule of the Rules of Procedure despite the grave disorder and violence on the floor on April 16.
Punjab Governor Umer Sarfraz Cheema has stalled oath-taking of the Punjab Chief Minister-elect and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawa leader Hamza Shehbaz saying the election was not conducted according to the directions given by the Lahore High Court. Besides, the Punjab governor accused Deputy Speaker Dost Mazari of acting in a partisan.
Punjab Governor to continue in office: President Alvi
On April 18, President Arif Alvi said the Punjab Governor would continue in his office till the presidency decides on a summary for his removal sent by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. PML-N leaders said they would approach the Lahore High Court against the governor’s decision to postpone Hamza Shehbaz’s oathtaking ceremony as Punjab chief minister.
The election of the new leader of the house was marred by chaos and violence in the assembly session which saw Hamza Shehbaz elected chief minister with 197 votes as members from the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam boycotted the session. No votes were cast for Speaker and PTI-PML-Q candidate Pervaiz Elahi.
“Notwithstanding the grave disorder, the House (Punjab Assembly) met the requirements for the election of the Chief Minister as per Rule 20 and Second Schedule of the Rules of Procedure,” Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) and Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN) said in their joint statement released on April 18.
However, the observer groups said some parts of the proceedings were inaudible to observers due to protest by treasury members and makeshift sound system in the gallery. “The Acting Speaker had to preside over the sitting from a gallery as his dais was ransacked.”
Assembly staff also allowed some treasury members to exit the Assembly chamber before the conclusion of voting process in violation of provisions of the Second Schedule, the observer groups said.
In their joint statement, both Independent observer groups expressed serious concerns at the non-enforcement of clearly laid-out security protocols as envisioned by the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab 1997 that led to disorder and violence on the floor of the Assembly during the proceedings for the election of the Chief Minister on April 16.
“The acts of violence perpetrated by members of the Assembly against the Deputy Speaker, who was presiding over the session as per the orders of the Lahore High Court (LHC), and other distinguished members, are highly condemnable and must be immediately taken cognizance of under the relevant penal provisions,” the observer groups said.
According to PILDAT and FAFEN, the violence on the floor resulted from the negligence by the assembly staff were not prepared to counter any untoward situation despite clear directions by the LHC for strict security measures.
“The unfortunate happenings inside the Punjab Assembly televised live by the media to millions of viewers in Pakistan and abroad emanated largely from negligence by the staff of the Assembly Secretariat who were duty-bound to provide all assistance to the Deputy Speaker in the performance of his responsibilities and to ensure order as per Rule 210 (5) in the absence of the Speaker,” the obersvers groups noted in their joint statement.
Despite the disorder with clear signs of escalation before the start of the proceeding, the assembly staff did not make any visible effort to create an insulation between the protesting members and the Speaker’s dais that allowed a physical attack on the Deputy Speaker, the observer groups said.
The observers also noted the Assembly staff opening the doors of the “Ayes Lobby” to let the strangers along with uniformed secretariat officials in the Assembly Chamber. “These strangers were also seen resisting the law enforcement personnel who were trying to create a security cordon to protect Speaker’s dais and engaging in scuffles with assembly members.”
Although Secretariat had announced that visitors would not be allowed on the day of the election, the observer groups noted that visitors supporting the either side continued to be present and chanting the slogans, many of them were seen by these observers being allowed to enter the floor of the House and stimulating disorder and violence.
‘Deputy Speaker summoned police as per law’
The observers also noted that a contingent comprising hundreds of police personnel entered the floor of the House only after a total breakdown of order due to several hours of inaction by the Assembly’s security staff to vacate the Speaker’s dais from protesting members. Since Rule 14 (3) of the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab 1997 vests all powers necessary for the purpose of preserving order and decorum in the Speaker, the Acting Speaker sought help from law enforcement agencies to restore order in the House and enable it to carry out its constitutional function of electing the leader of the House, as was also ordered by the LHC.
“The events in Punjab Assembly reflected a failure of multiple layers of regulatory protections and checks that have been instituted to ensure compliance of rules by the Secretariat as well as to deter such incidents by belligerent members.”
Call for transparent probe
According to the independent observers, the checks instituted to insulate the functioning of Secretariat from political influences and ensure complete compliance of rules of procedures need to be strengthened to avoid similar situations in future. The observer groups called for transparent investigations through a process decided by the Parliamentary Leaders into the detestable episode in the august House and members who are found to have been involved in an unruly conduct may be proceeded against under the rules of procedure. They also called for a strict action against the concerned officials of the Secretariat for negligence in performing their duties.
In addition, the recent developments in Islamabad and Lahore have also reinforced the need for adequate constitutional protections to ensure that its Articles 66 and 69 are not used to encourage steps that are otherwise ultra vires to clearly laid-out constitutional provisions. Without compromising the supremacy of the elected houses that need to be further strengthened, the observer groups urged the Parliament to also institute sufficient safeguards to protect the sanctity of the Constitution from which all organs of the state including the Parliament draw their legitimacy and powers.