PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to take notice of what he described as a “blatant violation” of the Constitution and law in Punjab after a late-night federal government notification saw Omar Sarfraz Cheema removed as the province’s governor.
In a statement, Imran demanded the top court take “immediate notice of the blatant violation of the Constitution and the law in Punjab”.
His statement comes hours after the federal government issued the notification in the early hours of Tuesday, on the heels of a “strong rejection” of a summary by President Arif Alvi calling for Cheema’s removal from the governor’s office.
“Imported puppets are stirring up constitutional anarchy and chaos in Punjab,” Imran said. “First, a criminal puppet was imposed on the province as a chief minister through a ghost election. Now, keeping all constitutional requirements aside, the office of the president has been insulted.”
He condemned what he termed as an embarrassing attempt to remove the Punjab governor because of his insistence on protecting the Constitution.
The former premier said that the “blatant violation” of the Constitution in Punjab was being watched in silence, therefore, the Supreme Court must take suo motu notice of the situation, given its sensitivity.
Cheema terms notification ‘unconstitutional’
Meanwhile, Omer Sarfraz Cheema rejected the Cabinet Division notification for his removal, terming it “unconstitutional”.
In a tweet, Cheema said the president had rejected the summary in light of the “extraordinary” situation, and yet the Cabinet Division’s “unconstitutional” notification was issued.
He added that he was consulting constitutional experts and would soon announce his future course of action.
Hamza’s election and oath-taking
Cheema’s removal as the Punjab governor follows a long-winded saga that centred on the election and subsequent oath-taking of Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz.
Hamza was elected the province’s chief executive on April 16, in a Punjab Assembly session marred by violence and chaos. His oath-taking, however, was delayed for weeks as Cheema refused to administer oath to him, casting aspersions on the validity of his election.
Subsequently, Hamza approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) several times — first on April 21 — and sought its intervention in the matter. The court had then directed President Alvi to appoint a representative to administer the oath in the absence of the governor. But a delay by the president in following the court’s directive saw Hamza approach the court again on April 25. This time, he had asked the LHC to instruct Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to administer oath to him, following which LHC Chief Justice Ameer Bhatti had directed Cheema to complete Hamza’s oath-taking process by April 28.
When the president and governor still failed to follow the court’s instructions, Hamza had sought the LHC’s intervention for a third time on April 29. The court had then directed National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to administer the oath to Hamza, who was sworn in as the Punjab CM the very next day.
Hours before Hamza’s oath-taking, Cheema had announced that he had rejected the resignation of Hamza’s predecessor, Usman Buzdar — who had stepped down as the provincial chief executive on March 28 — declaring it “not constitutionally valid” as Buzdar had addressed his resignation to then-prime minister Imran Khan, but was accepted by Cheema’s predecessor Chaudhry Sarwar. Cheema had later gone on to call Hamza a “fake chief minister” and derided his oath-taking as “unconstitutional”.
The PTI has also challenged Hamza’s election in the LHC.
Summaries for Cheema’s removal
This series of events, that had driven the the province towards a constitutional crisis, coincided with reports that the federal government, led by Hamza’s father Shehbaz Sharif, was intending to remove Cheema from office.
Eventually, PM Shehbaz had sent a summary for Cheema’s removal to the president on April 17, while Cheema had maintained that the prime minister did not have the authority to dismiss him and only the president could do so.
In that summary, PM Shehbaz had recommended the name of PPP’s Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood as the Punjab governor. However, when President Alvi had returned that summary after holding it for 15 days without a decision, the premier had re-endorsed the advice on May 1, asking for Cheema’s removal and the appointment of a PML-N loyalist from Bahawalpur, Balighur Rehman, in his place.
The president, however, also rejected the second summary and conveyed to the prime minister that the governor could not be removed without his approval and would continue to “hold office during the pleasure of the president” in accordance with clause 3 of Article 101 of the Constitution.
“He wrote that the incumbent governor cannot be removed as there was neither any allegation of misconduct nor conviction by any court of law or of any act committed by him contrary to the Constitution of Pakistan,” a press release had said.
According to a Dawn report, the PTI camp believed the Constitution was clear in terms of Article 101(3) read with Article 48(2) that “the president shall act in his discretion in respect of any matter in respect of which he is empowered by the Constitution to do so”.
Cheema had also relied on articles 101(3) and 48(2) that he has even referred to in several tweets, saying the automatic implementation of the prime minister’s advice takes effect after the period during which the president has to act on it has lapsed, but not in the case of the removal of a governor.
According to the Constitution, the president can hold a summary sent by the premier for 14 days without a decision. On the expiry of the period, the prime minister may re-endorse his advice in this respect and the president can hold his decision for another 10 days. After this period, the governor will stand removed and the prime minister is authorised to appoint a new governor.
While deadlock on the matter continued, Cheema was removed from office, with a late night notification of the Cabinet Division stating that Cheema has ceased to hold office on the advice of the prime minister sent to the president on April 17 and reinforced on May 1.
The notification added that the Punjab Assembly speaker shall perform the functions of the governor till the appointment of an incumbent, in accordance with the Article 104 of the Constitution. This development not only changes the situation at Governor House, but also in the Punjab Assembly as Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi will have to vacate his office to take over as acting governor, and Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari was said to be inclined towards the PML-N.
The speaker and the deputy speaker are both facing no-confidence motions in the House.
Cheema fears attack
Before Cheema’s removal, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had advised him to go home respectably and ensure that he, as well as President Alvi, did not indulge in any activity that would lead to “public wrath” in the days to come.
“The president is bound to implement the prime minister’s advice, and any deviation will tantamount to a violation of the Constitution,” he asserted.
Following Sanaullah’s warning, Cheema had taken to Twitter to say that the “Sicilian mafia” was all set to attack his office with unconstitutional summaries and notifications.
In another tweet later at night, he wrote: “The threatening and inflammatory statements of the attorney general and interior minister may lead to a civil war. Both of them have proved they are courtiers, thugs of the Raiwind palace.”
He further said he had managed to control the situation when Governor House was “held hostage”, but warned if it was “attacked” again the result would be different and a civil war may ensue. Cheema went on to say the prime minister, interior minister, attorney general and the “unconstitutional” chief minister of Punjab would be responsible in such a situation.