Pakistan’s embattled prime minister faces a tough no-confidence vote

Pakistan’s embattled prime minister faces a tough no-confidence vote on Saturday led by his political opposition, who say they have the numbers to defeat him.

A combined opposition, stretching the political spectrum from left to radically religious, says it has the 172 votes it needs in Pakistan’s 342-seat parliament to oust Imran Khan after parliament meets at 10:30 a.m. local time .

Addressing national television on the eve of the vote, Khan urged his supporters to take to the streets to protest on Sunday, an indication he believed he could lose the vote ordered by the Supreme Court. The bench of five on Thursday blocked Khan’s attempt to remain in power, ruling that his bid to dissolve parliament and call early elections was illegal.

Thursday’s court decision set the stage for a no-confidence vote that is likely to fall against Khan after several of his ruling party members and a small but important coalition partner defected.

In an impassioned speech on Friday, Khan reiterated his accusations that his opponents had colluded with the United States to overthrow him over his foreign policy decisions, which often appeared to favor China and Russia and defied US criticism.

Khan said Washington opposed his Feb. 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, hours after tanks rolled into Ukraine and a devastating war began in the heart of Europe.

The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics. Deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters Friday that “there is absolutely no truth to these claims.”

“Of course we continue to follow these developments and support Pakistan’s constitutional process, but again these claims are absolutely not true,” she said.

Still, Khan urged his supporters, particularly the young ones who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricket star-turned-conservative Islamist politician came to power in 2018, to take to the streets. He said they must protest to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty against an America that wants to dictate to Pakistan.

“You must come out to protect your own future. It is you who must protect your democracy, your sovereignty, your independence… It is your duty,” he said. “I will not accept imposed government.”

Khan’s options are limited and should he see a large turnout supporting his support, he could try to keep the momentum of the street protests up to pressure parliament to disband and hold early elections.

A no-confidence vote in Khan on Saturday would see an opposition of unlikely partners in power in Pakistan.

Among them is a radical religious party that runs numerous religious schools or madrassas. Jamiat-e-ulema Islam (JUI), or Assembly of Clergy, teaches a deeply conservative Islam in its schools, and many of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s own violent Taliban members graduated from JUI schools.

The largest of the opposition parties – the Pakistan People’s Party, led by the son of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League – have been battered by allegations of widespread corruption.

Pakistan’s Muslim League leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been convicted of corruption after being named in the so-called Panama Papers – a collection of leaked classified financial documents showing how some of the world’s wealthiest hide their money and into which a global law firm involved in Panama. He was barred from office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

If the opposition wins the no-confidence vote, it will be up to Parliament to elect a new head of government – that could be Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif. If the legislature is unsuccessful, snap elections would be called.

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Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at www:twitter.com/Kathygannon

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