ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Prime Minister Imran Khan dissolved the Pakistani Parliament and called for new elections to be held on Sunday, preventing a vote of no confidence was widely expected to remove him and plunge the country into constitutional crisis.
The unusual move has deepened the political turmoil that has gripped Pakistan after international cricket star-turned-politician Mr Khan lost the backing of the country’s powerful army and coalition. alliance of opposition parties.
The crisis has been escalating for weeks, but its latest twist threatens to destabilize fragile democracy in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country. support the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and has struggled with instability and military coups since its founding 75 years ago. Still, even in a country accustomed to turmoil, Sunday’s events were impressive.
“Never in the history of Pakistan has such a thing happened,” said Ashtar Ausaf Ali, a former attorney general of Pakistan.
Opposition lawmakers filed a petition opposing the move before the country’s Supreme Court, saying it resulted in a “public coup against the country and the Constitution.” Mr Khan’s allies argue that the court has no authority to interfere in the work of the Legislature and echoed Mr Khan’s recent claim that the vote was part of a US-backed plot to oust him. contradiction.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing for Monday, setting the stage for a contest for the leadership of the country.
Under Mr. Khan’s tenure, Pakistan has moved away from the United States, pursuing a strategic partnership with China and closer ties with Russia. If he stays in office, his accusations that American officials have tried to orchestrate a regime change in Pakistan will likely further cool relations between the two countries.
But the deputy spokesman, Qasim Khan Suri, an ally of Mr Khan, rejected the proposal for a vote of no confidence. He said Mr Khan was still prime minister and still had the power to dissolve Parliament.
In a televised speech on Sunday, Mr Khan confirmed that he had ordered the dissolution of the Legislature and countered his claims that opposition parties were colluding with US officials. in a plot to remove him from office. Mr. Khan offered no evidence to support his claims and US officials have denied the allegation.
Mr Khan called for early elections to resolve the political crisis, which members of his party say must be held within 90 days.
“Prepare for elections,” Mr. Khan said. “No corrupt force will determine the future of the country.”
The move clearly caught the opposition by surprise. Its leader, Shehbaz Sharif, held hasty meetings with his party leaders as they tried to figure out his next steps.
“It is a sad day in Pakistani history. The newly developed democracy has been affected and destroyed in a very, very brutal way,” said Mr Sharif, who was once expected to become interim prime minister if Mr Khan was sacked.
Opposition lawmakers refused to leave the Houses of Parliament, apparently hoping to put pressure on the Supreme Court to act. A handful of lawmakers from Mr Khan’s party waved as they left the building, repeatedly shouting, “Imran Khan, your supporters are countless.”
Ahead of a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial urged all political parties to maintain law and order until a ruling – alluding to concerns that Mr Khan could street incitement or even violence as he did in the last case.
To prepare for that possibility, paramilitary troops and police have been deployed since Friday to effectively blockade the so-called Red Zone in the capital Islamabad, home to government buildings, including the Congress.
Many constitutional experts believe that it is likely that the Supreme Court of this country will rule on the deputy minister’s rejection of the vote of no confidence.
Yasser Kureshi, a postdoctoral fellow in constitutional law at Oxford University, said: “The constitutional gymnastics required for this act to become legal would actually undermine the legitimacy of the court. judgment.
Mr Bandial added that several court judges had expressed concern about the situation after Mr Khan dissolved Parliament, casting doubt on the constitutionality of his move.
However, that is no guarantee that Mr Khan will be ousted. The longer it takes the court to reach a verdict, the more time Mr Khan’s government has to try to weaken the opposition ahead of the next general election. Even if the court finds Sunday’s ruling party’s move unconstitutional, it could disallow a vote of no confidence by reinstating the disbanded councils, instead pushing push for an early general election to resolve the political crisis.
The Supreme Court is also not over the conflict in Pakistani politics and is frequently embroiled in controversies.
“Our Supreme Court has an unclean past. From sanctifying military takeovers, putting political leaders on the gallows, or assuming explicit executive power beyond their territories,” said Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, a lawmaker with The opposition Pakistan People’s Party, said in a tweet.
Some analysts in Pakistan speculate that, as the crisis drags on, Mr Khan could get members of the opposition arrested, citing them as part of what he sees as a US conspiracy. to remove him from office. Mr. Khan has led a growing crackdown on dissidents, and opponents have accused him of targeting opposition members under the pretext of an anti-corruption campaign.
Standing outside parliament, a lawmaker from Mr Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Kanwal Shauzab, said the arrest of opposition members was a “possibility” as long as it was carried out. according to the law of the land.”
“We will not chase the opposition without any reason. That’s what they did. They have to pay for their deeds,” she added.
Such arrests could reduce the bulk of those who appear poised to topple Mr Khan. But his move on Sunday appeared to risk costing his supporters. An outspoken lawmaker from his party, Aamir Liaquat Husain, resign in protestjoins dozens of members of Mr Khan’s coalition who have defected in recent weeks.
Attempting to prevent such defections, the Interior Minister said Tehreek-e-Insaf had the support of Pakistani agencies in dissolving the Legislature – a clear reference to the military, forces considered vital to the survival of the civilian government of Pakistan.
The military appeared to have withdrawn its support for Mr Khan late last year after a dispute over leadership and longstanding differences in the country’s foreign policy and security agenda. Military leaders, who have expressed interest in deepening Pakistan’s relationship with the United States, have asserted that the military remains neutral in the current political crisis.
But a spokesman for the military denied that it participated in or supported Sunday’s developments. It is the first time that military leaders have publicly hinted that they do not support Khan’s bid to stay in office. For some, it raises the possibility of military intervention – a familiar pattern in Pakistan’s history – should the political crisis drag on.
“Historically, the longer such a constitutional stalemate persists, the greater the likelihood of some kind of military intervention,” Kureshi said.
Christina Goldbaum and Salman Masood Report from Islamabad, Pakistan. Zia ur-Rehman Reporting contributions from Karachi, Pakistan.