LAHORE - There is always something called the Murphy’s Law, but wiser men always keep a contingency plan to execute in such a situation.

As the luck would have it, Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari could not make it to chair the session in the absence of the Speaker. His absence from the House created an unusual situation never witnessed in Punjab Assembly before.

Though the Treasury did have a contingency arrangement, but it failed to execute it effectively apparently because they had not done their homework properly. Resultantly, the clever Opposition got an opportunity to grill the government on technical grounds. For almost an hour or so, it kept the Treasury benches engaged in a useless debate questioning the legality of the Assembly proceedings under a chairman whose name had not been announced by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker inside the House.

The Opposition raised alarm when they saw Mian Shafi Mohammad of the PTI sitting on Speaker’s chair apparently as one of the members among the panel of chairmen. Interestingly, the chairman also asked Secretary Assembly to announce the names of Assembly members placed on a panel of chairmen (including his name)already approved by the Speaker on January 3.

For the Opposition, it was unusual as the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker has to announce a panel of chairmen after commencement of the first sitting of an Assembly session.

Under the Assembly Rules of Procedure, it is always the Deputy Speaker who has to chair the first sitting of a new session in Speaker’s absence if the latter is out of the country or performing duties as governor. However, any Assembly member out of the panel of chairmen can also chair the sitting if already nominated by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker but upon commencement of a session.

Since none of the above two conditions were fulfilled, Rule 13(2) had the provision to run the House. Under this rule, Secretary Assembly informs the House about absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and members on the panel of chairmen, after which, any minister has to move a motion to authorise any member of the House to chair the session.

The Opposition even asked the law minister to apply this rule but he seemed reluctant to do so for reasons best known to him. The minister stuck to his stance that the sitting was legal as the Speaker had authorised Mian Shafi to chair the session in his absence. He also asked him to ignore the hue and cry from the opposition benches and start the House proceedings.

Among the confusion which prevailed at the time, Mian Shafi was compelled by the Opposition to direct the Secretary Assembly to announce panel of chairmen yet again.

Making mockery of the situation, PML-N’s Samiullah Khan suggested that Advocate General Punjab should called in to seek his legal opinion on the issue.

It was after a lot of pleading from the Opposition and even from his own colleagues that law minister finally agreed to move the much desired motion in the House. The deadlock was over. The chairman Mian Shafi later also declared earlier proceedings of the House as legal, but he remained virtually a “Stranger on the Chair” for at least one hour. It was in the middle of this debate that Chairman administered oath to a newly elected member of the Assembly Mr Asad Khokhar.

Earlier, when the Opposition agitated this issue in the beginning, Punjab Law Minister Muhammad Basharat Raja told the House that Speaker Parvez Elahi had on January 3 approved four names for the panel of chairmen to be announced on the first day of Assembly session. But at that time he was not aware of the fact he would have to perform duties as Acting Governor in the following days and that the Deputy Speaker won’t be available to chair the session.

The law minister also pleaded that Speaker could exercise his powers both inside and outside the House.

But this was not enough to satisfy the PML-N’s legal wizard Mohammad Ahmad Khan who insisted that under rule 13 of the Assembly rules of procedure, the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker could only announce the panel of chairmen in the House immediately after start of the first sitting of any session.

Also, whereabouts of the Deputy Speaker were not known to the House and even the senior officers in the Chief Minister’s secretariat were clueless about his mysterious absence from the Assembly. Secretary to Chief Minister Dr Raheel Siddiqui reportedly called his office to talk to him but he was not present in his office. But there were rumors in the Assembly that he was in Karachi to see off his relatives who intended to proceed to Saudi Arabia for Umrah.