Gilgit-Baltistan top court puts off chief minister election

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Gilgit-Baltistan, JUL 5: The Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court (SAC) on Wednesday delayed the election for the new chief minister citing procedural irregularities.

A day earlier, the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court had disqualified former chief minister Khalid Khurshid on charges of obtaining a licence from the region’s bar council based on a fake degree.

Subsequently, the PTI had nominated Raja Azam as the party’s candidate for the slot while the PPP had nominated Amjad Advocate, the PML-N had nominated Engineer Anwar and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam had nominated Rehmat Khaliq. The deadline to submit candidates’ nomination papers was noon while the election was to take place at 3pm today.

However, a press release issued from the top court said Chief Judge of GB SAC Justice Sardar Muhammad Shamim Khan ordered that the election be adjourned.

He also ordered GB Assembly Speaker Nazir Ahmed to present a new election schedule in court tomorrow with at least three days given for the election and directed that assembly members should be informed about the election schedule through the press, TV or detailed notice.

The press release said that while presiding over a hearing, Justice Khan asked Ahmed why the election schedule for today was announced in such a hurry, especially when there was a no-confidence motion submitted against the speaker.

Citing the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly Rule (3) of Procedure and Conduct of Business, 2017, the court said it was necessary to advertise the election schedule through television, newspapers, radio and gazette publications.

It also noted that it was necessary to notify the members of the assembly about the election by post.

Police seal GB Assembly
Earlier today, police officials entered the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly and sealed the premises while evacuating journalists and lawmakers present.

Shortly after noon, a heavy police contingent headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Farman Ali entered the assembly hall and sealed it.

At the same time, officials told the journalists gathered at the scene to exit from the main gate, asking the assembly staff to do the same shortly thereafter. The police contingent then encircled the premises and also barred lawmakers from entering.

Later, Dar Ali Khan Khattak was removed as the GB inspector general and replaced by Afzal Mahmood Butt.

The transfers were notified by the Establishment Divison, which said: “Dar Ali Khan Khattak, a BS-20 officer of Police Service of Pakistan, Government of Gilgit-Baltistan, is transferred and directed to report to the Establishment Division, with immediate effect and until further orders.”

In a separate notification, the government’s human resource arms stated: “Afzal Mahmood Butt, a BS-20 officer of the Police Service of Pakistan, presently serving under the Government of Punjab, is transferred and posted as the inspector general of police, Government of Gilgit-Baltistan, under Section 10 of the Civil Servants Act, 1973, with immediate effect until further orders.”

PTI reacts
Reacting to the police action at the GB assembly, ex-chief minister Khurshid alleged that the election was being delayed because the PTI had a “clear majority” and would vote for the party’s candidate.

He further alleged that after delaying the poll, efforts would be made to “break [away]” PTI lawmakers. He claimed that if this failed, lawmakers, including him, would then be arrested so that the party loses the majority.

PTI’s Farrukh Habib said that “political engineering” was underway in GB. He said that the chief minister election had been postponed in light of the PTI’s “clear victory”, adding that such steps were increasing “instability”.

Earlier today, PTI’s Central Information Secretary Raoof Hassan stated that the election should be held without any delay.

“Opposition trying to delay the convening of session to play their dirty game of buying and selling. Disgusting and deplorable,” he said.

GB high court disqualifies Khurshid in fake degree case
Tuesday’s order disqualifying Khurshid, who is also PTI’s regional president, was passed by a three-judge bench comprising Justice Malik Inayatur Rehman, Justice Johar Ali and Justice Mushtaq Muhammad.

Ghulam Shahzad Agha, a member of the GB Assembly from PPP, had earlier challenged Khurshid’s law degree and sought his disqualification under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.

The petitioner, through his counsel Amjad Hussain, contended that the degree submitted by Khurshid had not been verified by the University of London, and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) had declared it to be fake.

On May 29, Chief Judge Ali Baig had formed a larger bench to hear the case with instructions to conduct day-to-day hearings and conclude the case within 14 days.

The GB Chief Court — which has a status equal to that of other high courts of Pakistan and whose decisions are appealed to the GB SAC, the highest court in the region — also issued notices to the HEC, the chief minister, GB Bar Council and the Election Commission to submit their replies on the issue.

All respondents in the case completed their arguments, after which the bench disqualified Khurshid for five years.

Earlier on Tuesday, a no-confidence motion was also submitted against Khurshid in the GB Assembly by nine lawmakers from opposition parties.

After the decision passed by the GB Chief court, the region’s chief election commissioner de-notified Khurshid as a member of the GB Assembly.