Punjab Assembly session put off to June 6


LAHORE: A Punjab Assembly session in which the no-confidence motions against Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and Deputy Speaker Dost Mazari were to be held was put off to June 6 after the no-trust motion against the speaker was dismissed.

As lawmakers were unable to enter due to police, the no-confidence motion against Speaker Elahi was scuttled on technical grounds as no member of the PML-N could present it against him.

As soon as the session started, under the panel of chairs in the absence of any lawmaker, it was adjourned to June 6.

Afterwards, Khalil Tahir Sindhu of the PML-N said that the session was adjourned on "unlawful grounds" and that they would move against the speaker again today. "Nowhere in the law is it said that once a motion is rejected, it cannot be re-introduced."

Earlier, MPAs from the PML-N-led coalition alleged that some PTI and PML-Q lawmakers were allowed inside, and held Elahi responsible for it, while the speaker blamed the "father-son duo" of PM Shehbaz Sharif and CM Hamza Shehbaz.

The session was scheduled to begin at 12:30pm. Elahi had summoned lawmakers to arrive at the assembly half an hour before.

Security was beefed up outside the assembly and television footage showed a contingent of police equipped with riot control gear outside the gates.

PML-N's Ataullah Tarar told reporters that the gates have been closed on the orders of Parvez Elahi. "Elahi did all this using his men. No media or MPAs are allowed to enter. This is not district council Gujrat, this is the centre of 120 million people."

Addressing Elahi, Tarar said he has "made it a habit" to violate the sanctity of the house. "A no-confidence motion was moved against you and under the Constitution, it is obligatory to hold the session within seven days." He also said PML-N lawmakers would be protesting outside the gates until they were allowed in.

Separately, PPP Parliamentary Leader Syed Hassan Murtaza told reporters, said that only PTI lawmakers were being allowed to enter the assembly. He alleged that such methods were being used to ensure that a "mishap" could occur so that there would be grounds to disqualify lawmakers.

On the other hand, Elahi in a conversation with reporters, said the "father-son" duo of Shehbaz and Hamza Shehbaz had shut the gates when asked who was responsible for the obstacles.

He said that it was now evident to the media that they (the government) "have made a police gate". "The truth is they have seen that they don't have the numbers. We have more people. Their lotas (turncoats) have been de-seated ... There is no one that can stop legislation."

He also warned that those police officials who obstruct proceedings were risking Article 6 — treason — cases.

Earlier in the day, Elahi spoke of the enhanced security presence, and said: "Let's see who prevents the elected members from entering the assembly.

"We will fight against government fascism. No one can stop elected representatives from entering the assembly."

Former Punjab governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema also took to Twitter and requested the "heads of the law enforcement agencies and constitutional institutions" to take notice of the situation in Punjab.

"How long can the province of 120 million be bullied by this father-son [duo] and police," he said, adding that the public should not be forced to take to the streets to "free the province".

Ahead of the session, the day was not short on drama, as an assembly official was taken into police custody, according to a spokesperson for the Punjab Assembly.

The spokesperson confirmed reports of the arrest of Parliamentary Affairs Director General Rai Mumtaz. In a statement, the spokesperson claimed that police officials entered Mumtaz's home after scaling the walls.

He alleged that police officials also conducted a raid at the home of Punjab Assembly Secretary Muhammad Khan Bhatti and Secretary Coordination Inayatullah Lak, but were unable to arrest the two.

Speaker Elahi condemned the police action and claimed that it was being carried out on the orders of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. He also termed the government's actions "fascist".

"After violating the sanctity of the House, the government is making use of new tactics," he said, adding that the action against officials of the Punjab Assembly was proof that the government was "panicking".

"The unconstitutional and fake government is taking steps against the Constitution and law," he stated, adding that the "true face" of the Sharifs had been unmasked before the people.

Later in the day, it emerged that a case had been registered against the three Punjab Assembly officials at the Shahdara police station on the complaint of MPA Ashraf Rasool.

The FIR was registered under Sections 452 (trespassing), 506-B (punishment for criminal intimidation), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon) and 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Rasool alleged that five men came to his home at 10am on May 21. When he went outside, he discovered three of the armed men were the assembly officials, adding that all five of the suspects forcibly entered his residence.

"Muhammad Khan Bhatti, Inayatullah and Rai Mumtaz pointed their pistols at me," he said, adding that the Punjab Assembly secretary asked to leave him alone. The MPA quoted the secretary as saying that he would kill the lawmaker if he did not stop "opposing him".

"He also asked the other four men to threaten me with dire consequences," he said, adding that this was an attempt to deter him from fulfilling his parliamentary duty.

The complainant alleged that as the Punjab Assembly secretary, Bhatti had favoured people from his hometown of Mandi Bahauddin when making appointments. The lawmaker said that he had taken up the issue in the Punjab Assembly.

Separately, in a statement, Bhatti said that the provincial assembly was a democratic institution and its officers were attacked in the "dark of the night".

He claimed that during the raid at his residence, officials made away with jewellery, a mobile phone, a laptop and an LCD TV. He alleged that the family of the coordination secretary was also harassed, in addition to items being stolen.

Bhatti said that the arrest of a senior bureaucrat like Rai Mumtaz had made a mockery of the law. He also said that he would register a case against the police officials for stealing items from their homes.

On Saturday, Elahi had rescheduled the assembly session from May 30 to May 22 (today), after 25 dissident PTI MPAs who had voted for Hamza Shehbaz for CM office against their party direction were de-seated.

Though no formal agenda was issued till Saturday evening, the swift action by Speaker Elahi shows the numbers game now suits him for his run-off election as chief minister.

The assembly’s current strength has reduced to 346 members after the de-seating of the 25 MPAs. The PML-N has 165 MPAs of whom five Sharaqpuri group members recently withdrew their support. Besides the backing of its 160 MPAs, the PML-N has seven PPP MPAs, four independents and one Rah-i-Haq Party MPA on its side. This shows PML-N has 172 votes.

On the other hand, Elahi’s PML-Q and his ally PTI have a total strength of 168, but the PTI-PML-Q alliance believes they will get all the five women and minority seats whereas the PML-N claims two reserved seats will come to it.

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