Pakistan government coalition leaders criticise judiciary over handling of Punjab CM re-election case


Top leaders of Pakistan’s ruling coalition on Monday expressed distrust in the Supreme Court’s handling of a case related to the election of the chief minister in Punjab province, saying “bench-fixing” is a crime similar to “match-fixing,” and urged it to avoid constituting a “specific bench” for taking one-sided decisions.

The coalition government leaders, including the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Vice President Maryam Nawaz, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl ur Rehman and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah addressed a joint press conference ahead of the significant Supreme Court hearing on Hamza Shehbaz’s re-election as the chief minister of Punjab province.

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“Institutions are insulted from within, not outside. One wrong decision blows up an entire case. Criticism isn’t needed where the right decisions are taken,” Maryam, the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and PML-N supremo, said.

The PML-N vice president pointed out that there were many respected judges appointed to the apex court and questioned why they were not involved in hearing the PML-N’s cases.

“One or two judges, who have always been anti-PML-N and anti-government, are repeatedly included in the bench,” she said, adding that “bench-fixing is a crime just like match-fixing”.

The PML-N leader asked for the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of this issue.

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Hamza, the son of Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on Saturday took oath as the Chief Minister of the Punjab province after he was re-elected to the post by just three votes amidst high drama when Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari rejected 10 crucial votes of his rival candidate Chaudhry Parvez Elahi.

In the 368-member Punjab Assembly, Hamza’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) received 179 votes, while Elahi’s party garnered 176 votes.

Elahi, who was also backed by former premier Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, later moved the Supreme Court, which allowed Hamza to remain as the “trustee” Punjab province Chief Minister till the hearing resumes on Monday but barred him from using his powers for “political gains” during this period.

Maryam said that ever since Hamza became the chief minister, PTI leaders have been repeatedly approaching the apex court — and this time, they jumped over the walls of the top court.

“Have you ever heard of a trustee chief minister?” she asked.

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The firebrand leader said that since Hamza was elected chief minister of Punjab, he was not allowed to work.

“He goes from Parliament to court, and back and forth. What justice is this?”She said that “our justice system is such that when a petition is filed, the people already know what bench will be constituted and the decision that will be given.”

Referring to the PTI’s petition against the chief minister’s July 22 election, Maryam said that the apex court’s doors were opened late at night and the registrar gave “sufficient time” to the party to draft its appeal.

“This is not what happens in our justice system,” she said, adding that the PTI was given ample time to draft its petition by the registrar, while the common man is given months for the date of hearing.

The petition is being heard by a three-member bench, including Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Munib Akhtar.

They were among the five judges who ruled against the decision by then National Assembly deputy speaker Qasim Suri to dismiss the vote of no-confidence against ousted Prime Minister Khan in April.

Bilawal, the chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), too, reiterated that the coalition government only has one demand: the formation of a full bench to hear the case related to the Punjab Chief Minister’s election.

“This cannot happen if three people decide the fate of this country. Three people cannot decide on whether this country will run on a democratic, elected or selective system,” he said, referring to the three-judge bench constituted to hear the case.

“It cannot be possible that three people change Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution with just the stroke of a pen,” he said.

Bilawal said they want the country to run through a democratic process.

He said that we can see that some people, who wanted to make this country a “one-unit” system”, can’t digest that Pakistan is moving closer to democratic norms and that the public is making its own decisions.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman endorsed Maryam’s view, saying that fingers were being pointed at the judiciary.

He said that the government wanted to strengthen the judiciary, where its decisions spoke for themselves. “They shouldn’t have any conflict or give the impression of a bias.”

He said that the government given the mandate by the people was not being allowed to function.

He went on to say that when a government was not formed as per the will of the country’s institutions, a new setup was imposed through the rigging.

He said that institutions meddle in political affairs to protect the state but did they ever think that the state is weakened due to their interference?

“You are sitting behind a wall. You may decide whatever you want [] and make politicians the culprit in the eyes of the public and defame them. But if there’s moral courage, hold yourself accountable.”

He said that the government did not expect any justice from the current bench and reiterated the government’s demand for a full court bench.

He went on to say that the government supported what Maryam said earlier, saying that this was their “united stance”.

“Don’t take this nation to a point where people rebel against institutions,” he said.

PML-Q leader Tariq Bashir Cheema also reiterated the demand for a full court bench, adding that a decision should be taken “for once and all times to come”.

Amid political crisis over the issue, Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman on Sunday administered the oath to 37 new provincial ministers at Governor’s House on Sunday evening.

Elahi alleged that the “trustee chief minister” was spending Punjab’s money to save his power. “Even the swearing-in and the size of the cabinet cannot save these rulers, who are guilty of unconstitutional actions. This move should also be held in contempt of the court.”

However, the newly-inducted minister defended the cabinet formation, saying that Hamza Shehbaz was an elected chief minister and he was performing his duties as per law. They said that the government’s request for a larger bench would be accepted by the apex court.

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