Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sanaullah warns of governor’s rule in Punjab province

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Wednesday warned of imposing governor’s rule in Punjab if his entry into the province was restricted, a day after the Supreme Court declared former premier Imran Khan-backed candidate Chaudhry Pervez Elahi as the chief minister of the politically important region.

His remarks came after divisive political and judicial wrangling, Elahi was sworn in as the chief minister of the largest province early Wednesday morning by President Arif Alvi.

Sanaullah said the Cabinet discussed the issue of clamping governor’s rule in Punjab in case any restriction was imposed by the new Punjab government on the interior minister or any other government official.

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Separately, addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he revealed that his ministry had already begun drafting an order for the governor’s rule, which is being prepared by the interior ministry.

“If my entry is restricted, it will be grounds for governor’s rule,” he asserted, after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers had suggested prohibiting his entry to the Punjab province.

Elahi took oath as the chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province following the apex court’s verdict that saw Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Hamza Shehbaz, son of the prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, losing his status of the “trustee” chief minister.

“The summary to impose governor’s rule is being drafted, and I — personally — have started work on it,” Interior Minister Sanaullah said while addressing a press conference in Islamabad.

In the widely anticipated judgement on a petition filed by Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) leader Elahi, the apex court on Tuesday declared Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari’s controversial decision to reject 10 votes in the Punjab chief minister’s election as “illegal”, citing Article 63-A of the Constitution.

“The Deputy Speaker’s ruling is illegal. There is no legal justification for his ruling,” the Supreme Court said.

Hamza was earlier declared the winner in the election though his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party did not have a majority in the Assembly after key by-elections held on July 17.

Sanaullah said the Supreme Court’s decision had “created complications and destabilised the political situation” because of which the rupee was plummeting against the US dollar and the economy in a tailspin.

“Even a second-grader would interpret Article 63-A — which is related to the disqualification of lawmakers over defection — as saying that the votes of dissident lawmakers would be counted in the election,” the minister said.

He added that the apex court’s verdict contradicted the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to de-seat 25 dissident PTI lawmakers who had voted for Hamza in the April 16 election, which was, in turn, based on the Supreme Court order.

Hamza should have remained the chief minister since the votes of those 25 dissident lawmakers would not be subtracted from his tally in the April election, Sanaullah said.

“It is my opinion that the interpretation of Article 63-A will not sustain. Any lawyer will say it amounts to rewriting the Constitution. It is not the Supreme Court’s authority to rewrite the Constitution and we will defend the parliament’s authority,” he explained.

“This situation is unfortunate and we want to restrict our words [] An independent, uncontroversial and impartial judiciary is any country’s basic need. No country can progress without it,” the minister said.

The three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justices Ijazul Ahsan and Munib Akhtar announced the decision after refusing to form a full bench as demanded by the coalition government. Pakistan’s federal government on Tuesday boycotted the proceedings after the apex court rejected its plea for full bench.

Punjab is Pakistan’s second-largest province and any party ruling the key province controls the politics of the country.

For the PML-N, losing Punjab means losing the Centre. Political pundits believe that the ruling coalition is now vulnerable.

The move is a major blow to the Sharif-led government, which is now confined only to the capital Islamabad since the Opposition party, Khan’s PTI now rules the sensitive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Punjab through Elahi.

Tuesday’s outcome provides a “massive opportunity” to PTI chairman Khan to build further pressure on the rulers to call for fresh elections and also corner the PML-N in Punjab which is considered a stronghold of the Sharifs.

When asked whether the PML-N-led coalition government in Islamabad would find it difficult to continue after losing control of the Punjab province, Sanaullah said: “The federal government has its own role. It is present everywhere.”

“This kind of conversation is being done by people who neither have intelligence nor knowledge. The federal government is a coalition government and it is present everywhere,” he added.

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