Imran Khan Out as PM After High Court Orders No-confidence Vote
No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed full term
[Islamabad] An exhausting political and constitutional crisis ended at 1 am Sunday when a marathon session of the National Assembly concluded with the removal of Imran Khan, the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan.
At the order of the Supreme Court, the National Assembly met on Saturday to vote on the no-confidence motion against the embattled Khan. The opposition coalition secured 174 votes in the 342-member legislature, blaming him for rising inflation and unemployment.
National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, both die-hard supporters of Khan, resigned their posts ahead of the vote.
Khan did not attend the assembly session and was engaged in consultations at the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad till the last moment. Upon hearing the result of the no-confidence vote, he drove to his private residence in the city.
Although no Pakistani prime minister has completed his or her term, this is the first time one has been ousted by a no-confidence vote in Parliament.
In 1989, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto survived such a motion by 12 votes.
In 2006, a no-confidence motion against Shaukat Aziz was defeated, by 201 votes against 136.
Two longtime rival parties – the Bilawal Bhutto Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party and the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz – are now allies, and, along with smaller parties, they ousted Khan.
Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) ruled the country for over three-and-a-half years and had struggled to stay in power as allies joined hands with the opposition coalition.
Twenty-three MPs from six political parties, until recently allies of the PTI, joined the opposition coalition in voting no-confidence on Sunday.
The National Assembly will choose a prime minister on Monday. The opposition coalition has nominated Shahbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, for the post.
On April 3, then-National Assembly Deputy Speaker Suri dismissed the opposition parties’ motion of no-confidence against the prime minister and said it was the result of a foreign conspiracy and thus violated the constitutional requirement of loyalty to Pakistan.
The same day, President Arif Alvi dissolved Parliament at the request of Khan.
The opposition filed a petition in the Supreme Court against Suri’s actions.
After five consecutive days of hearings, the country’s top court ordered that the no-confidence motion be decided by a meeting of the National Assembly on Saturday.
According to BBC Urdu Service, Khan decided to sack Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa shortly before the no-confidence vote, and a petition was filed in the Islamabad High Court in the middle of the night in an effort to stop Khan from taking such steps.
However, the Armed Forces Media Wing swiftly rejected the BBC story, terming it baseless and a pack of lies.
“The typical propaganda story lacks any credible, authentic, and relevant source and violates basic journalistic ethos,” the Media Wing said. “The story clearly seems part of an organized disinformation campaign. The matter is being taken up with BBC authorities.”
Liaquat Ali Khan, the first elected prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated in 1951. Some prime ministers were ousted by military coups, and others were dismissed by presidential order or disqualification by the Supreme Court.
In recent days, Khan clearly pointed to the US administration, saying it was behind a conspiracy to remove him as it was not happy with his attempts to carry out an independent foreign policy and his visit to Moscow in February.
Khan persistently accused the opposition of colluding with the United States to unseat him.
On March 4, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Washington was trying to “punish disobedient Imran Khan,” describing efforts to remove him from power as “yet another attempt to unashamedly interfere with a sovereign nation’s internal affairs.”
Washington repeatedly denied it was behind the no-confidence motion, with State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter describing Khan’s allegations as “absolutely not true.” Ned Price, the State Department’s chief spokesman, said there was “no truth” to the allegations, adding that “we respect, we support Pakistan’s constitutional process and the rule of law.”
Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, told The Media Line that “Pakistan has still never had a prime minister complete a full five-year term. Many, including me, had once thought Khan may be the first.
“Khan sounds like he’s preparing to return to doing what he did, with relish, for many years before 2018, being a very noisy and disruptive opposition leader,” he continued.
“After its euphoria subsides, the new coalition government won’t have it easy. It will face an economic mess and it will be hounded relentlessly by an angry Khan-led opposition. Can’t rule out the possibility of early elections down the road,” Kugelman said.
Kamal Alam, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, told The Media Line that “even before the allegations leveled by Imran Khan against the Americans, US-Pakistan relations had taken a turn for the worse since the assumption of Joe Biden as president.
“Historically, Republican presidents are always much closer to Pakistan going back to Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and then more recently both George W Bush and even Trump, who personally liked Khan,” Alam said.
“The failure of the US forces in Afghanistan has been squarely placed on Pakistan. Capitol Hill has been dead set against Pakistan ever since the killing of bin Laden in 2011; from there it has been a steady downhill path with military aid going from almost $4 billion to zero,” he added.
“So Khan’s latest rant will not have an overall negative impact further than things already are. Pakistan is not even a top 15 priority in DC,” Alam said.
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security analyst and a South Asian expert, told The Media Line, “Pakistan is at a crossroads with Imran Khan forced to vacate the prime minister’s office, after efforts to blame his political downfall on a conspiracy of his opponents with the United States.
“However, the only legacy he leaves behind is distancing Pakistan from Western countries and pushing it toward an economic and political dependency on China,” she continued.
“Amidst the rise of China’s influence in Asia and the growing aggression of Iran, Pakistan’s role in the neighborhood is of a greater concern,” she continued. ”With Khan gone, there is a window of opportunity for stronger, pragmatic leadership to evaluate the consequences of getting too close to Russia and China following the Ukraine debacle,” Tsukerman said.
Shams Zaheer Abbas, a Lahore-based retired Pakistan Army captain and a prominent security analyst, told The Media Line, “Imran Khan earned 17 million votes in the 2018 general elections. Who overthrew the most popular leader in Pakistan is somewhat relevant, whether it was foreign or domestically sponsored. The fact of the matter is that the country has been destabilized and it will have severe consequences for the economy and the unity of Pakistan.
“The goal of country’s enemies, wherever they are, has been achieved,” he said.
“The change of regime is a coup against a popular government through a managed change of loyalty. This is not the first time that a similar coup has been condoned by the judiciary and stakeholders in this corruption-ridden parliamentary system,” Abbas said.
Azeem Khalid teaches international relations at COMSATS University Islamabad. He told The Media Line that “the regime change in Islamabad using the ‘democratic process’ is portrayed as a victory for the constitution and democracy in Pakistan.
“The ousted Khan-led government kept beating the drums, to the deaf ears of the judiciary and national security institutions, about foreign meddling in the country’s political processes and internal affairs to undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty,” He said.
“The successful ousting of Imran Khan has left many question marks regarding the crucial political roles of Pakistan’s judiciary and military,” Khalid said.