Pakistan PM Khan avoids ouster move but uncertainty builds

A shopkeeper tunes a television screen to watch the speech of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, at his shop in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 31, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Imran Khan survived a move to oust him as Pakistan’s prime minister on Sunday, getting a reprieve when the deputy speaker of parliament blocked a no-confidence motion as unconstitutional.

But Khan’s fate was not immediately clear, leading to fresh political and constitutional uncertainty in the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people.

The opposition immediately vowed to challenge the block on the vote, made by a member of the premier’s political party, while Khan advised the country’s president to dissolve parliament and called on the nation to prepare for fresh elections.

“I’ve sent advice to the president to dissolve assemblies,” Khan, an international cricket champion turned politician, said in a televised address, referring to national and state legislatures.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, head of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, promised a sit-in at the parliament and told reporters, “We are also moving to the Supreme Court today.”

The opposition blames Khan for failing to revive the economy and crack down on corruption. He has said, without citing evidence, that the move to oust him was orchestrated by the United States, a claim Washington denies. 

“Under article 224 of the constitution, prime minister will continue his responsibilities, the Cabinet has been dissolved,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a tweet.


The opposition and analysts say Khan, who rose to power in 2018 riding on the powerful military’s support, had fallen out with it, a charge he and the military deny.

No prime minister has finished a full five-year term since independence from Britain in 1947, and generals on several occasions have ruled the country, which is perennially at odds with fellow nuclear-armed neighbour India.

Pakistan’s potential fresh instability comes as it faces high inflation, dwindling foreign reserves and widening increasing deficits. The country is in the middle of a tough International Monetary Fund bailout programme.

In addition to economic crisis, Islamabad faces challenges including an attempt to balance global pressure to prod the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan to meet human rights commitments while trying to limit instability there.

Khan lost his majority in parliament after allies quit his coalition government and he suffered a spate of defections within his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

If Sunday’s vote had gone through and the opposition remained united, Khan, who recently lost his parliamentary majority, would have been out of office.

With coalition partners and some of his own lawmakers defecting earlier in the week, Khan had looked set to fall below the 172 votes needed to survive the no-confidence vote.

A prominent newspaper had recently said Khan was “as good as gone”, but he had urged his supporters to take to the streets on Sunday ahead of the planned vote.

On the streets of the capital Islamabad, there was a heavy police and paramilitary presence, with shipping containers used to block off roads, according to a Reuters witness.

Police were seen detaining three supporters of Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party outside parliament, but the streets were otherwise calm.


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