PM sacks governor, Cheema refuses to leave office until presidential notification
LAHORE:Punjab was embroiled in a new legal and constitutional crisis on Sunday after the federal government said Punjab Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema had been removed on the order of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif but the former challenged the authority of the latter to sack him.
Hours after the governor postponed the swearing-in ceremony of the newly-elected chief minister of Punjab Hamza Shahbaz, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb announced that he had been removed.
However, Cheema told a news conference that only the president, and not the prime minister, had the authority to remove him. Until the president notified the order of his removal, Cheema added, he would continue to hold office.
Cheema was appointed the governor earlier this month after the former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government removed Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar. Aurangzeb said that the federal government would name the new governor to replace Cheema.
Speaking at a news conference, Cheema stressed that he was holding the office “at the pleasure” of the president. He added that the prime minister had to send a summary to the president for his removal and until the president issued the notification he would continue to hold the office.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry seconded Cheema’s stance, saying in a tweet that President Arif Alvi had not removed the governor. “The power to remove the governor belongs to the president. No such summary has reached his office. Therefore, Omar Cheema will continue to serve as the Governor of Punjab.”
However, PML-N Deputy Secretary General Atta Tarrar said that it was incumbent upon the Punjab governor to administer the oath to the chief minister-elect, adding that not doing so was “a violation of the Constitution”.
Cheema delayed the oath-taking of Hamza, saying that he had sought a report from the Punjab Assembly secretary about the PML-N leader’s election during Saturday’s session, which saw violent confrontation between lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
During the session, assembly members from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the PML-Quaid and the PTI came to blows. Later, in an unprecedented move, the police were called inside the house to hold the election of the new chief minister. Hamza secured 197 votes.
Cheema held consultations with Punjab Speaker and PTI’s candidate for the chief ministership, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, former chief minister Usman Buzdar and a team of constitutional experts about the status of Saturday’s assembly session.
Speaking to the media, Cheema condemned the violence in the assembly and emphasised that such incidents set a “very wrong” precedent. “I am a political worker and have fought elections. This is a very wrong precedent being set,” Cheema added.
He alleged that Chief Minister-elect Hamza Shahbaz used state power on the polling day against his opponents – the PTI and PML-Q. “If he had enough votes, then he should not have made the polling process controversial by creating unrest in the assembly hall,” Cheema continued.
He also questioned the legal status of the election, whether the election for Punjab’s chief minister was held in accordance with directions of the Lahore High Court (LHC). He also accused Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari, who chaired the session, of acting in a “partisan way”.
Summoning report from the Punjab Assembly Secretary, Cheema sought replies to the questions: whether the deputy speaker conducted the proceedings from the rostrum or from the gallery, whether Parvez Elahi was tortured in the assembly hall and whether the police entered the assembly hall.
The governor also directed the assembly secretary to provide footage of the assembly session. He said that he had decided to send his recommendations to the president for review. He added that his office would write to the Punjab advocate general (AG) and the speaker about the chief minister’s election.
“Therefore, sitting in a constitutional office, I cannot endorse an unconstitutional act,” Cheema said. “I will start the [oath-taking proceedings], once I am satisfied that these elections were conducted according to the Constitution and the LHC’s order,” Cheema maintained.