ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi was sworn in as chief minister of Punjab by Pakistan President early Wednesday morning, in a boost to ousted premier Imran Khan whose party approached a top court seeking dismissal of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's government.
Elahi, the 76-year-old leader backed by Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was sworn in at the directions of the Supreme Court which dealt a big blow to Prime Minister Sharif-led coalition by removing his son as the executive head of the country's politically crucial province.
A three-member bench - comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Muneeb Akhtar - on Tuesday night ruled that Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) leader Elahi will be the new chief minister of Punjab, paving the way for a change in the country's most populous province and political heartland.
Elahi, who lost the election held on Friday despite getting a majority vote, had challenged the ruling of deputy speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari who handed victory to Hamza.
Elahi secured 186 votes against 179 votes of PML-N candidate Hamza but lost after Deputy Speaker Mazari rejected 10 votes of his PML-Q lawmakers.
Mazari refused to count the vote after PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain through a letter directed his party lawmakers to vote for Hamza, son of Prime Minister Sharif and PML-N president.
The apex court declared Mazari's controversial decision to reject 10 votes as "illegal".
It ordered Punjab Governor Baligh ur Rehman to administer the oath to Elahi.
However, Rehman refused to perform his duties.
ایوان صدر: تقریب حلف برداری وزیر اعلٰی پنجاب pic.twitter.com/Akm2Ig2wIz— Parvez Elahi (@chparvezelahi) July 26, 2022
Following Rehman's refusal, Elahi left for Islamabad late Tuesday night where he was sworn in as the chief minister by President Arif Alvi at the Aiwan-e-Sadar in the early hours of Wednesday.
Alvi sent a special aircraft to bring Elahi to Islamabad for the oath-taking ceremony, Geo News reported. 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.
"I want to thank the nation for coming out spontaneously last evening in support of the SC decision upholding Constitution & the Law. Tonight I will address our people at 10:00pm giving them our way forward for a sovereign Pakistan," Khan tweeted on Wednesday.
Elahi's swearing-in capped a months-long saga over the provincial chief executive that began with Usman Buzdar's resignation.
However, it opened a new front in the country's troubled politics.
On Wednesday, Khan's party approached the Lahore High Court seeking removal of Prime Minister Sharif and his cabinet from office.
In a petition filed by the PTI leaders Andalib Abbas and Hassan Niazi, the federal government, the principal secretary to the PM, and the Election Commission of Pakistan amongst others were made parties to the case, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.
The petition contended that money laundering cases against the premier are under hearing, meanwhile, he and his cabinet have met with proclaimed offenders during their recent foreign trip.
Khan's party argued that in a "clear violation of the law", Prime Minister Sharif included his son Salman Shehbaz and his wife in the official visit to Turkey.
"The prime minister is violating the Constitution by misusing his powers," stated the petition.
Seeking the removal of the PML-N leader from the premier's office along with his cabinet, the petition also requested the LHC to order the caretaker prime minister to take over.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Wednesday warned of imposing governor's rule in Punjab if he was restricted from entering the province.
Talking to reporters in Islamabad, Sanaullah said he had already begun drafting an order for the imposition of governor's rule because of the kind of statements opposition political leaders had been making.
"If my entry is restricted, it will be grounds for governor's rule," the PML-N leader asserted.
The Punjab province has been in turmoil since April which took a new turn on Friday when Elahi was not declared a winner.
Soon after the apex court verdict on Tuesday night, a jubilant crowd carrying PTI flags present outside the Supreme Court on the Constitution Avenue as well as a number of supporters on the premises burst into cheers and sloganeering.
Despite a heavy police contingent blocking the roads leading to the apex court building, a large number of supporters managed to reach the venue, and those who could not make it started celebrating at different police pickets on the way.
"I appreciate our SC judges for standing firm and upholding the Constitution & law, against all manner of threats & abuse," Khan said, welcoming the apex court's ruling.
"I want to thank the people of Punjab for coming out in unprecedented numbers in bye-elections against rigging," he tweeted.
A resurgent Khan and his PTI have not just snatched the PML-N's citadel in Lahore, they are also threatening to shake the very foundations of its weak power in Islamabad, the Dawn newspaper said in its editorial.
"It is only a matter of time before the coalition faces increased pressure from all corners, especially the PTI, for early elections, which will be difficult for it to handle with a hostile administration in the largest province," it said.
"With Khan emerging as the most popular leader it will be hard for the establishment, judiciary, bureaucracy or business elite to write him off. That's what the verdict underlines," it said.
Confined to Islamabad with its coalition partners, the PML-N leadership has limited options to survive the remaining term of the present assemblies and no room for manoeuvre in Punjab, the report said.
The only choice for it from here on is to forge a stronger alliance with the other parties most of them already a part of the coalition in the next elections and beyond to salvage its politics, it said.
Addressing a press conference soon after the verdict was announced, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb lambasted it as a "judicial coup".
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.