ISLAMABAD (AP) – Amid political unrest in Pakistan, the country’s Supreme Court is scheduled to convene on Monday to hear arguments and later rule on whether Prime Minister Imran Khan and his allies had the legal right to dissolve parliament and set the conditions for early to create elections.
The opposition are questioning the latest moves by Khan, a former cricket starter-turned-conservative Islamist leader who came to power in 2018, as a ploy to remain as prime minister. She has also accused him of economic mismanagement.
On Sunday, Khan’s ally and Pakistan’s Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Qasim Suri, broke up the gathering to bypass a no-confidence vote that Khan appeared certain to lose. The opposition claims the deputy speaker has no constitutional authority to overrule the no-confidence vote.
The developments were the latest in an escalating row between Khan and the opposition, backed by defectors from the prime minister’s own party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, or Justice Party, and a former coalition partner, the Muttahida Quami movement, which has joined the ranks of the opposition on. The opposition claim they have the numbers to oust Khan in parliament.
The current political dilemma is in many ways uncharted territory, even for Pakistan, where successive governments have been overthrown by a powerful military and others have been ousted prematurely.
According to constitutional attorney Ali Zafar, the key decision before the Supreme Court is whether Suri, the deputy speaker, had the constitutional authority to overturn the no-confidence vote.
Zafar told The Associated Press that the court must also decide whether it has any authority to rule on the matter at all. Khan’s party insists that the actions of a parliament speaker are privileged and cannot be challenged in court.
If the court rules that the deputy speaker steps out of line, parliament will reconvene and hold the vote of no confidence in Khan, legal experts say. If the court upholds the latest measures, Pakistan will head for early elections.
The opposition says it has the 172 votes in the 342-seat assembly to oust Khan. After Suri rejected the motion of no confidence on Sunday, the information minister and another Khan ally, Fawad Chaudhry, accused the opposition of plotting “regime change” with the backing of the United States.
Pakistan’s powerful military – which has ruled the country directly for more than half of its 75-year history – has remained silent during much of the political infighting.
However, army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa on Sunday distanced the military from allegations of a US-backed conspiracy, saying Pakistan wants good relations with both China and the US, Pakistan’s biggest trading partner.
Khan, an outspoken critic of Washington’s war on terror and Pakistan’s partnership in that war, claims the US wanted him because of his foreign policy decisions and because he refused to distance Pakistan from China and Russia.
However, Michael Kugelman, associate director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, sees the recent political infighting as just another “part of a recurring pattern in Pakistan of governments subverting the democratic process to retain power. ”
It underscores a deeply polarized society, Kugelman added. While Khan’s supporters may think dissolving parliament was a “stroke of genius” to avoid a no-confidence vote, “his critics think he acted recklessly and essentially staged a legal coup and plunged the country into a constitutional crisis.”
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report. Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at www:twitter.com/Kathygannon