Pakistan court adjourns hearing on PM Khan’s blocking of vote

Pakistan’s top court will return on Tuesday, April 5 to hear the case on Imran Khan’s blocking of an opposition attempt to remove him.

Imran Khan
Khan, a former cricket star, lost his majority in parliament last week [File: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

Pakistan’s top court has adjourned without deciding on the legality of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s actions in blocking an opposition attempt to remove him, a move that has led to political turmoil in the South Asian nation.

Khan, a former cricket star, lost his majority in parliament last week as his opponents built support in advance of a vote of no confidence that had been due on Sunday.

But the deputy speaker of parliament, a member of Khan’s party, threw out the no-confidence motion that Khan had been widely expected to lose, ruling it was part of a foreign conspiracy and unconstitutional. Khan then dissolved parliament.

The stand-off has thrown the country of 220 million people, which the military has ruled for almost half its history since independence in 1947, into a full-blown constitutional crisis.

Supporters of the united opposition chant slogans outside parliament building Islamabad
Supporters of the united opposition chant slogans outside the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 3, 2022 [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

Pakistan’s opposition has challenged Khan’s decision in a legal case that began on Monday, with a five-member Supreme Court bench hearing arguments in a packed courtroom.

The court failed to come to a verdict during the three-hour hearing and will return on Tuesday.

“The ruling was unlawful – why?” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked lawyers for Pakistan’s opposition.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, Pakistan looks to be heading for a fresh election before the completion of the current term of the parliament and the prime minister in 2023.

If Khan prevails, polls will happen within 90 days. The opposition also wants an early election, albeit after delivering a political defeat to Khan by removing him through a parliamentary vote.

A notice Monday from President Arif Alvi to Khan and opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif said they should agree on a new interim prime minister, but Sharif declined to cooperate.

“How can we respond to a letter written by a person who has abrogated the constitution?” he asked a press conference Monday.

The leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, accused Khan of “violating the constitution”.

“There is one legal way of removing the prime minister – the no-confidence motion. Imran Khan, just for the sake of his ego, sabotaged the no-trust process by violating the Constitution,” he told reporters in the capital Islamabad, media outlet Dawn news reported.

Elections upcoming?

Khan also dissolved the cabinet and wants a general election within 90 days, although that decision officially rests with the president and the election commission, and depends on the outcome of the court hearing.

The largely ceremonial head of state, President Alvi, said in a statement that Khan would stay on as prime minister in an interim role until a caretaker prime minister was appointed under whom a general election would be held.

Alvi wrote to both Khan and Sharif, asking them to put forward names for a caretaker prime minister within three days, the president’s office said in a statement.

As the opposition scrambled to react, Khan taunted them on Twitter on Sunday.

“Astonished by the reaction,” he tweeted, adding the opposition had been “crying hoarse” about the government failing and losing the support of the people.

“So why the fear of elections now?”

But whether an election will happen depends largely on the outcome of the legal proceedings.

The Supreme Court could order that parliament be reconstituted, call for a new election, or bar Khan from standing again if he is found to have acted unconstitutionally.

The court could also decide that it cannot intervene in parliamentary affairs.

FAFEN, an independent Pakistani election observer network, said it had “identified multiple constitutional, legal and operational challenges to the conduct of an early election”.

The group highlighted under-registration of women, hiring of polling officers and publishing of election materials as among the challenges that needed to be addressed.

Conspiracy accusations

Khan has accused opposition figures of hatching a conspiracy to remove him with the help of the United States.

“The lawmakers who became part of an international conspiracy to topple the government only care for their personal interests and would no longer be accepted in politics,” he said during a live telecast on Monday.

Members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party held demonstrations in different cities on Friday, with some sharing videos on social media of the US flag being torched in Peshawar.

The White House has denied that the US is seeking to remove Khan from power.

Q Zaman contributed to this report from Islamabad

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies