Imran throws Pak into chaos with contentious call for polls
Disallowing the Opposition's no-confidence motion, deputy National Assembly speaker Qasim Khan Suri, from Khan's PTI, said, “No foreign power shall be allowed to topple an elected government through a conspiracy".
New Delhi: Pakistan was plunged into a constitutional crisis on Sunday as Prime Minister Imran Khan called early elections after the deputy speaker of parliament blocked a no-confidence motion against him on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
Khan was not expected to survive the no-confidence motion moved by an alliance of opposition parties in the National Assembly or Lower House of the parliament as it had the backing of dozens of dissidents from his own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The opposition appeared to have more than the 172 votes in the 342-member House to unseat Khan.
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However, shortly after the National Assembly convened on Sunday morning, information minister Fawad Chaudhry challenged the no-confidence vote on the ground that it violated Article 5 of Pakistan’s Constitution – which says every citizen must be loyal to the state – as there was a “foreign conspiracy” to oust the government.
Deputy speaker Qasim Khan Suri, from the PTI, immediately accepted Chaudhry’s argument without allowing any debate on the issue, and disallowed the no-confidence motion as it was “unconstitutional”. Suri, who chaired the crucial session after opposition parties filed a no-confidence motion against Speaker Asad Qaiser, said: “No foreign power shall be allowed to topple an elected government through a conspiracy.”
Even as the stunned opposition members were trying to decide on their next course of action, Khan delivered a brief address to the nation in which he said he had recommended to President Arif Alvi, also of the PTI, to dissolve the legislative assemblies and call a fresh election. He congratulated the nation over the no-trust motion being dismissed and said the deputy speaker had rejected an attempt at “changing the regime”.
“I want to tell the public to get ready for elections...No corrupt forces will decide what the future of the country will be,” the 69-year-old cricketer-turned-politician said, speaking in Urdu.
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Soon after, the president issued the official notification dissolving the National Assembly. PTI leaders said elections would be held in 90 days and that Khan will continue as the prime minister.
The powerful military, whose relations with Khan are currently strained, distanced itself with the political developments. “The army has absolutely nothing to do with what happened in the National Assembly today,” chief military spokesperson Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar told a TV news channel.
The Supreme Court will take up a petition filed by opposition parties challenging the deputy speaker’s ruling and demanding the holding of the no-confidence vote on Monday. The petition asked the court to ensure there was no interference “with the vote count and smooth voting on the resolution of No Confidence of the Prime Minister”.
During a special hearing on Sunday, a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said no state functionary should take any “extra-constitutional” step. The chief justice also made it clear that the actions taken by the PM and president would be subject to the court’s order.
A circular released on Sunday evening said Khan was officially no longer the PM of Pakistan. “Consequent upon the dissolution of Pakistan Assembly by the President of Pakistan in terms of Article 58(1) read with Article 48(1) of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan vide Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, dated 3rd April 2022, Mr Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi ceased to hold the office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, with immediate effect,” a government statement said.
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Khan’s efforts to save himself from the no-confidence vote have centred round a diplomatic cable sent by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, that reported on the envoy’s purported conversation with a senior American state department official. The cable purportedly said relations between the US and Pakistan were linked to Khan’s fate being decided by the no-confidence vote. Ties were unlikely to improve if Khan survived the vote, PTI leaders have cited the cable saying.
Khan had vacillated on identifying the country involved in the so-called “foreign conspiracy” against his government but on Sunday, he publicly named US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs Donald Lu as the American official who had the conversation with Majeed. Lu, who has had stints in US missions in both India and Pakistan and speaks Urdu and Hindi, is considered one of the top officials handling South Asian affairs.
The stunned opposition parties described Sunday’s developments as “unconstitutional” and lawmakers refused to leave the House, which was guarded by a large number of security personnel. They held a mock session in the National Assembly with Ayaz Sadiq of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PLM-N) in the speaker’s chair.
During the mock proceedings, a total of 195 lawmakers voted in favour of the no-confidence motion.
Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly and senior PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif described the developments as “nothing short of high treason”. He said, Imran Khan had “pushed the country into anarchy” and “will not be allowed to go scot-free”. He added, “There will be consequences for [the] blatant and brazen violation of the Constitution.”
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Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari said the deputy speaker’s ruling was “totally illegal” and the Constitution doesn’t allow the dissolution of assemblies at this stage. “We are prepared for everything...even for elections,” he told the media.
PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari added, “What Imran Khan has done is against the laws...Imran Khan has exposed himself through this move. We will be present inside the National Assembly until this decision is reversed. He is fleeing against the no-trust motion seeing defeat.”
No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term in the coup-prone country that has been ruled for more than half its history by the military. Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa met Prime Minister Khan at least twice last week.
Khan had been under pressure for months to step down and the government’s woes intensified in recent weeks after key allies abandoned him ahead of the no-confidence vote. Khan’s government has been accused by the opposition of poor governance as the country grapples with Asia’s second-highest inflation. Khan floated the idea of calling an election if the no-confidence motion was withdrawn but it was rejected by the opposition.