3 PTI MPAs arrested for attacking deputy speaker; ruckus delays CM Punjab election

LAHORE: Three members of the Punjab Assembly were arrested Saturday for attacking deputy speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari as the ruckus in the house delayed the election for the chief minister’s slot.

The session was scheduled to start at 11:30am, but despite the passage of more than six hours, it has not yet started as government lawmakers — PTI and PML-Q — resorted to violence.

The lawmakers of the ruling party threw “lotas” at Mazari first, attacked him and pulled his hair despite the presence of security guards. The deputy speaker left the hall after this.

Before assaulting Mazari, the PTI lawmakers caused a ruckus when they brought “lotas” to the house and started chanting “lota, lota” (turncoats) as they lashed out at dissident PTI MPAs who parted ways with the party and decided to support the Opposition.

‘This is not Gujrat’

Deputy Speaker Mazari, in a statement, said the election would take place at any cost and that he would return to the assembly’s building later.

“I will fulfil my constitutional and legal duty […] the attack against me was orchestrated, it was not abrupt,” the deputy speaker said.

He also lashed out at Elahi and said: “This is not Gujrat where you can do whatever you want. This is the Punjab Assembly and here, we follow the constitution and law.”

Elahi slams police intervention

Talking to foreign media, PA Speaker Elahi — in an apparent reference to the LHC’s decision — said under Article 69 of the Constitution, the courts are not allowed to intervene in the Parliament’s affairs. “Courts cannot decide what will happen in the Parliament.”

Elahi said he had given additional powers to the deputy speaker as he was contesting for the chief minister’s slot, but when Mazari “misused” the powers, he withdrew them but the LHC restored those powers.

He said since Pakistan’s inception, police have not entered any assembly and termed their interference as unconstitutional.

“Tossing lotas is a common practice […] lotas have been brought in the house time and again,” he said, adding that the government’s MPAs were bribed into shifting sides.

In the light of today’s developments, we will decide our future course of action, he said, adding that the PML-N does not deserve the chief minister’s slot.

‘Gangsters of Gujrat’

While the session of the PA was yet to start, the National Assembly session kicked off and elected a new speaker, Raja Pervez Ashraf. During the lower house’s session, PML-N leader Khawaja Asif condemned the attack on the deputy speaker.

“Dost Mazari was tortured […] the assembly’s sanctity was violated; we will not allow hooliganism to take place and strive for the upholding of the constitution,” Asif said.

The PML-N leader termed the attack on the deputy speaker a “day of shame” for the parliamentarians as he blamed Pervez Elahi and PTI Chairman Imran Khan for the events that transpired in the assembly.

Asif berated the PTI government in Punjab and said they wanted to cling on to power illegally. “Whatever is happening in Punjab is illegal and unconstitutional.”

In an apparent reference to the PML-Q, the ex-foreign minister said the “gangsters of Gujrat” were brought to the assembly.

“We will not allow it,” Asif reiterated.

‘Attack on democracy, constitution, courts’

In a tweet, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the attack on the deputy speaker was not only an attack on the Punjab assembly, but it was an attack on the courts that had ruled he conduct elections.

“An attack on our democracy, an attack on our constitution, an attack on our federation and an attack on the people of South Punjab,” Bilawal termed the recent incidents in the assembly.

Hamza Shahbaz vs Pervez Elahi

A tough competition is expected between the two candidates — Hamza Shahbaz and Parvez Elahi. Hamza is the joint candidate of PML-N and other coalition parties, while PML-Q’s Elahi is being backed by PTI.

The April 16 session is being held in line with the LHC’s Wednesday order, wherein it rejected Hamza’s plea to hold the early elections and restored the powers of the deputy speaker.

The deputy speaker — whose powers were withdrawn last week — was asked by the court to hold the election on April 16.

The CM’s office has been vacant for nearly two weeks since ex-governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar — who was removed from his position last week — accepted Usman Buzdar’s resignation on April 1.

In a symbolic session of the provincial assembly, the Opposition elected PML-N leader Hamza as the chief minister after Speaker Elahi sealed off the Punjab Assembly on April 6.

The joint opposition has claimed to have the support of 200 members and is confident of winning the CM election. In the house of 371, Hamza Shahbaz needs the support of 186 members to become the chief minister.

‘Intentions not clear’

In a conversation with journalists after reaching the assembly earlier today, Elahi said despite being the speaker, he was not the custodian of the house today as he is a contender for the chief minister’s slot.

“Time will prove whether the deputy speaker was honest or not […] we will try to hold a transparent election today,” Elahi had said, adding he knows from where Dost Mohammad Mazari is taking instructions and will share details at the right time.

‘Free and fair election’

Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Mazari had said he would conduct today’s election in line with the rules as he maintained that if any member of the Punjab Assembly tried to disrupt the session, he would not come under pressure.

“The election will be free and fair […] the election will take place today and the result would also be announced today,” Mazari had told reporters.

The deputy speaker had said both sides — the Opposition and the treasury — would attempt to delay the election, but he vowed to hold the polls in a “good manner”.

He had also noted that dissident members from any party will be allowed to cast their votes today.

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