Imran Khan smiles during an event in Islamabad. File
The challenge may be the biggest yet for the former cricket star turned Islamist leader since he came to power in 2018. The opposition has demanded Imran Khan step down over his alleged failure to improve the country’s economy.
Pakistan’s key opposition parties launched a formal no-confidence vote for Imran earlier this month. Asad Qaiser, speaker of the National Assembly, convened a special session for Friday to deliberate whether Imran still has majority support in the house. Under the constitution, the parliament has three days to deliberate after which the lawmakers will vote, perhaps as early as Monday.
Imran has remained defiant, claiming he still enjoys the backing of the majority of lawmakers in the 342-seat house.
On Monday, Imran spoke to a gathering at a hospital in Islamabad, lauding his government's efforts to provide free health care for the poor.
"Since I joined politics, it was my dream that poor people should have free facilities and free medical care,” Imran said, adding that his government has succeeded in providing that to nearly every poor Pakistani citizen.
He also defended his government's performance, saying all economic indicators show improvement in Pakistan’s economy.
But recent mutinies from within Imran Khan's own Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party could easily tip the scales against him. As many as 13 lawmakers from his party have indicated they could vote against him. After the 2018 election, Imran secured 176 votes in parliament to become prime minister.
At a televised rally on Sunday, he urged the dissenters to come back, saying he would forgive them, while also claiming they had been bribed by the opposition — a charge the turncoats deny.
Also, several lawmakers from parties allied with Imran Khan opened talks last week with the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement on a possible new realignment in parliament, should Imran be ousted.
The votes of the dissenters from Imran Khan's ranks have also become an issue. President Arif Alvi on Monday asked the Supreme Court for guidance on whether their votes should be counted and considered valid.
Some law experts say those votes will be counted — even if the Election Commission later disqualifies them on complaints from Imran Khan’s party.
Imtiaz Gul, a senior Pakistani analyst, said it seems the opposition's no-confidence motion has garnered substantive support.
"This is a massive challenge to Imran Khan in a country of low morals and where the selfish forces of status quo are out to upstage him by hook or crook," Gul said.
The opposition, which needs a simple majority of 172 votes to oust Imran Khan, insists it has enough support. "Imran Khan has already lost the majority in the National Assembly,” said Shahbaz Sharif, the opposition leader in parliament, adding that the no-confidence motion was a mere formality.
The political turmoil comes as Pakistan is preparing to host foreign ministers from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Islamabad on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Pakistan's information minister, Fawad Chaudhry, slammed the opposition, saying the real intention was to disrupt the conference, for which the dates were announced months ago.
If Imran Khan is ousted, the parliament will elect a new prime minister who will decide, along with lawmakers, if early elections should be held. Pakistan's next elections are due in 2023.
Before the 2018 elections, there was a perception that Imran Khan had the backing of Pakistan's powerful military — a charge the military denied at the time. The military recently reiterated that it has no role in the country's politics.
"Why do these revelations expose repeatedly?” he posed a question in a series of tweets, and said exactly what he has been saying in his 24 years fight against corruption, which is the biggest threat to Pakistan’s progress. "These elites come to power and plunder the country.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan says he will bounce back if ousted from power, adding that he still hopes that the defectors of his party would change their mind and come back otherwise they will face humiliation
Overseas Pakistanis have hailed Imran Khan’s “brave” move to call for snap polls after a no-trust motion against him was rejected by the National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri.
Imran said he was disappointed but accepted the Supreme Court (SC) ruling that he had acted unconstitutionally in blocking the no-confidence vote when it was due to take place last Sunday, after which he dissolved parliament and called an election.
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