SC bouncer to Pak PM Imran Khan: Can’t evade trust vote
Khan, 69, was not expected to survive the no-confidence motion moved by an alliance of opposition parties in the lower house of parliament as it had the backing of dozens of dissidents from his own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan suffered a major blow on Thursday as the country’s apex court ordered the restoration of the dissolved parliament, and the convening of a session on April 9 to conduct a trust vote against the premier.
In a landmark ruling, a five-judge bench led by chief justice Umar Ata Bandial unanimously set aside deputy speaker Qasim Suri’s ruling to dismiss a no-confidence motion against Khan and the subsequent dissolution of the National Assembly by President Arif Alvi on the premier’s advice on April 3.
Khan, 69, was not expected to survive the no-confidence motion moved by an alliance of opposition parties in the lower house of parliament as it had the backing of dozens of dissidents from his own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The opposition has more than the 172 votes required to unseat Khan in the 342-member House.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that both the deputy speaker’s order disallowing the vote of no confidence, and the dissolution of the National Assembly and calling of early elections by the President were unconstitutional. The judges restored the dissolved National Assembly and ordered the convening of a session on April 9 to conduct the vote of no confidence by the end of the day.
The court’s decision after four days of tense hearings may have all but sealed the fate of Khan, whose aides had described his actions as a “masterstroke” against the combined opposition.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shehbaz Sharif, widely seen as the opposition’s candidate for the post of prime minister, welcomed the court’s verdict and said Pakistan and its Constitution “have been saved”. The ruling strengthened the sovereignty of the judiciary and maintained the sanctity of the Constitution, he said.
Sharif said the opposition would deliver a “genuine surprise” on April 9 – a riposte to Khan’s earlier statements about the surprise that awaited the opposition when the trust vote was taken up on April 3.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who has spearheaded the opposition’s drive against Khan, said activists would celebrate and offer prayers of gratitude on Friday.
When the National Assembly convened on April 3, law minister Fawad Chaudhry challenged the no-confidence vote on the ground that it violated Article 5 of the Constitution – which says every citizen must be loyal to the state – as there was a “foreign conspiracy” to oust the government.
The efforts by Khan’s party to save him from the no-confidence vote centered around a diplomatic cable sent by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed, that reported on the envoy’s purported conversation with senior state department official Donald Lu. The cable purportedly said ties between the US and Pakistan were linked to Khan’s fate being decided by the no-confidence vote.
PTI leaders cited the cable to allege there was a “foreign conspiracy” against the government. Media reports cited unnamed Pakistani security officials as saying that no evidence had been found of such a conspiracy, and the US administration has repeatedly rubbished the allegations.
Khan’s orchestrated dismissal of the National Assembly was described by Pakistani legal experts as a “civilian coup”, and a violation of the law and the Constitution. The developments plunged the country into a constitutional crisis exacerbated by uncertainty regarding Khan’s status as prime minister.
The lengthy hearing of the matter in the Supreme Court had triggered speculation about the independence of the judiciary and raised questions on whether the judges were dragging their feet on the issue. On Thursday, the judges reserved their verdict in the afternoon, and officials announced the ruling would be delivered by 7.30pm local time (8pm IST). The verdict came almost an hour later than scheduled, and led to celebrations outside the court by opposition activists.
During the week, the five-judge bench heard arguments from Khan’s lawyers, the opposition and the president. Khan has claimed the US wants to remove him because of his “independent” foreign policy that favours China and Russia and his visit to Moscow on February 24, the day Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the offensive against Ukraine.
“This is the unfortunate fact about Pakistani politics – the political issues which should be settled in parliament are instead brought to the Supreme Court to settle,” said analyst Zahid Hussain. “It is just a weakness of the system,” he told news agency AP.
The military has maintained a studied silence on the political crisis, though there have been reports that Khan no longer enjoys the backing of the powerful army that has ruled Pakistan for half its history.
In an indication of these differences, army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa told a security summit in Islamabad over the weekend about Pakistan’s history of “excellent and strategic” relations with the US, the country’s largest export market, and the desire to expand these ties without impacting relations with China.
The political chaos also spilled over to Pakistan’s largest and most populous province of Punjab, where Khan’s ally was denied the chief minister’s post on Wednesday after the opposition voted in their own candidate.
On Thursday afternoon, India declined to comment to the situation in Pakistan with the ministry of external affairs describing it developments as the neighbouring country’s “internal matter”.