Pakistan PM escapes removal but triggers a constitutional crisis

Imran Khan ducks a no-confidence motion and gets parliament dissolved, but the opposition decides to challenge the move in the Supreme Court.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview
President Arif Alvi dissolved Pakistan's National Assembly minutes after receiving advice from Prime Minister Imran Khan [File: Saiyna Bashir/Reuters]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s parliament has been dissolved after a no-confidence motion seeking the removal of Prime Minister Imran Khan was dismissed on Sunday, triggering another political and constitutional crisis in a country that has a history marred by frequent coups by powerful generals.

President Arif Alvi dissolved the National Assembly minutes after receiving advice from Prime Minister Khan. Minister of State for information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib said Pakistan will hold fresh elections in 90 days. However, the final decision will come from the president and the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The move, which is seen as a surprise Khan had promised to the opposition, took place on the day lawmakers assembled in the parliament for the no-confidence vote.

A ruling by the National Assembly speaker Asad Qasir paved the way for Khan to avoid voting but is seen by experts as an “unconstitutional move”. The opposition refused to accept the ruling and has lodged an appeal against the move in the Supreme Court, which will hear the case on Monday.

“I’ve no doubt that the court would declare government’s decisions as unconstitutional,” senior lawyer Khawja Haris told Al Jazeera.

He said the court may ask the speaker to hold voting on the no-confidence vote.

Opposition parties first staged a sit-in inside the parliament and then held parallel proceedings to vote on the no-confidence motion, which appeared to be a mocked exercise in which 196 members voted against Prime Minister Khan.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), said, “We are ready for the fresh elections but we cannot allow violation of the rules and the constitution.”

Khan, a former cricketer who took office in 2018, blames Washington for an alleged conspiracy to topple his government in which opposition leaders were being used.

“It is now clear that the conspiracy has foreign links and [we] have given demarche to the American embassy,” Khan, 69, told ARY News in an interview late on Friday.

“Foreign conspiracy” is the main pillar of Khan’s narrative which he is building to convince the masses and to cash anti-American sentiments in the country of more than 200 million.

The deputy speaker, a member of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), also dismissed the no-confidence motion for it being a “foreign conspiracy”.

“The process of the no-confidence motion, which started on March 8, cannot be terminated in this fashion without voting,” Haris, the constitutional expert, said.

Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial has taken notice of the development and the court is likely to take up the matter in the evening and give a ruling.

Haris said though the voting on the no-confidence motion was supposed to take place on Sunday, the court may order that to happen on a later date. Amid the standoff, there were fears that a prolonged uncertainty may lead the country’s powerful military to step in.

“We have nothing to do with what has happened today [in parliament],” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing, said in a statement.

Khan came to power in 2018 in elections tainted by allegations the country’s powerful military rigged in his favour. The military has now seemingly withdrawn its support, a stabilising factor for his government.

Source: Al Jazeera