Prime minister Imran Khan, has announced that he will call early elections after avoiding a no-confidence vote and claiming that a plot to destabilize his government failed.
The opposition parties’ no-confidence resolution was thrown out by the deputy speaker of Pakistan’s Parliament, and the session was abruptly ended.
Mr Khan went on national television minutes later to announce that he will petition Pakistan’s president to dissolve Parliament and call early elections.
The developments came after Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry accused the opposition of plotting a “regime change” with the help of a “foreign power.”
“I ask people to prepare for the next elections,” Mr Khan said in his speech. Thank God, a plot to overthrow the government failed.”
The opposition, which said it would stage a sit-in protest in Parliament, said the deputy speaker’s decision to overturn the no-confidence vote was illegal and that it would appeal to Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Prime minister Imran Khan’s opponents arrived in Parliament ready to vote him out of office.
To unseat the cricketer turned conservative Islamic politician, they needed a simple majority of 172 votes in Pakistan’s 342-seat Parliament. Mr Khan’s small but important coalition partners, as well as 17 members of his own party, joined the opposition to force his resignation.
The vote of no-confidence was expected to take place soon after Parliament convened on Sunday, but parliamentary rules allow for three to seven days of debate. The opposition claimed to have the necessary numbers to force a vote right away.
Roads and entrances to the capital’s diplomatic enclave, as well as Parliament and other sensitive government facilities, were blocked by massive metal containers. Mr Khan, defiant, called on supporters to hold protests across the country in protest of the vote.
The opposition has accused the government of working with the US to depose him, claiming that the US wants him to explain his foreign policy decisions, which frequently favor China and Russia. He has also been a vocal critic of the United States’ war on terror and Pakistan’s participation in it.
Mr Khan has circulated a memo that he claims proves Washington colluded with Pakistan’s opposition to depose him because Washington wants “me, personally, gone… and you’d be forgiven for everything.”
If Mr Khan had lost, his opponents would have been able to form a new government and rule until the next election, which was set for next year.
On Sunday, residents of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, will vote for a new chief minister. Mr Khan’s choice was up against it, with his opponents claiming that they had enough votes to install their candidate.
Punjab is the most powerful of Pakistan’s four provinces, with 60 percent of the country’s 220 million people living there.
The provincial governor, whose role is largely ceremonial and is chosen by the federal government, was also dismissed by the government on Sunday. However, it exacerbated Pakistan’s political unrest.
Mr Khan’s demise has been a rallying cry for Pakistan’s main opposition parties, whose ideologies range from left to right to radically religious, almost since he was elected in 2018.
His victory was marred by controversy, with claims that Pakistan’s powerful army aided his Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (Justice) Party’s victory.
According to Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, the military’s involvement in the 2018 elections undermined Mr Khan’s legitimacy from the start.
“The movement against Imran Khan’s government is inextricably linked to his contentious election victory in 2018, which was rigged by the army to push Khan over the edge,” Mr Mir said. “This seriously harmed the electoral process’ legitimacy and paved the way for the current chaos.”
For more than half of Pakistan’s 75-year history, the military has ruled the country directly, overthrowing democratically elected governments. For the rest of that time, it has worked behind the scenes to influence elected governments.
Prime minister Imran Khan has also been accused of economic mismanagement by the opposition, who blame him for rising prices and high inflation.
Despite this, his government is credited with maintaining an 18 billion dollar (£13.7 billion) foreign reserve account and bringing in a record 29 billion dollar (£22.1 billion) from overseas Pakistanis last year. Mr Khan’s anti-corruption image is credited with encouraging Pakistanis living abroad to send money back home.
His government has also received international praise for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, which included the use of so-called “smart lockdowns” instead of countrywide shutdowns. As a result, several key industries in Pakistan, such as construction, have managed to survive.
Mr Khan’s confrontational leadership style has been widely criticized.
“Khan’s greatest flaw has been his insistence on remaining a partisan leader to the bitter end,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Asia Program in Washington.
“He hasn’t extended a hand across the aisle to his opponents.” He has remained obstinate and unwilling to make significant concessions. As a result, he’s burned too many bridges at a time when he desperately needs assistance.”
Mr Khan’s insistence that the US is involved in efforts to depose him plays into widespread mistrust of American intentions in Pakistan, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, according to Mr Mir.
Despite the fact that thousands of Pakistanis have died in militant attacks and the army has lost over 5,000 soldiers, Washington has repeatedly chastised Pakistan for doing too little to combat Islamic militants. Pakistan has been chastised for assisting Taliban insurgents while also being urged to negotiate with them.
“The fact that it has such easy traction in Pakistan speaks to some of the damage done by US foreign policy in the post-September 11 era in general and in Pakistan in particular,” Mr Mir said. “There is a reservoir of anti-American sentiment in the country that politicians like Khan can easily exploit.”