ISLAMABAD (AP) – Pakistan’s embattled prime minister faces a no-confidence vote in parliament on Sunday, and the opposition said they have the numbers to win after Imran Khan’s allies and partners in a fragile coalition deserted him.
The opposition needs a simple majority of 172 votes in Pakistan’s 342-seat parliament to oust Khan, a cricket star-turned-conservative Islamic politician. Khan’s small but important coalition partners, along with 17 of his own party members, have joined the opposition to oust him.
The vote is expected to take place at 11:30 a.m. (06:30 GMT) on Sunday after the scheduled convening of parliament, but Pakistan’s parliamentary rules allow for three to seven days of debate. The opposition says they have the numbers for an immediate vote but Khan’s party could force a delay.
On Sunday, huge metal containers blocked roads and entrances to the capital’s diplomatic enclave, as well as to the parliament and other sensitive government institutions in the capital. A defiant Khan urged supporters to hold demonstrations across the country to protest the vote.
Khan has accused the opposition of colluding with the United States to unseat him and said America wants him to reconsider his foreign policy decisions which often favor China and Russia. Khan was also a staunch opponent of the American War on Terror and Pakistan’s partnership with Washington in that war.
Khan has circulated a memo he claims provides evidence that Washington conspired with the Pakistani opposition to oust him because America wants “I personally gone… and all would be forgiven.”
A defeat for Khan would give his opponents a chance to form a new government and rule until elections due next year. The opposition could also opt for snap elections.
Pakistan’s main opposition parties, whose ideologies span the spectrum from left to right to radically religious, have rallied to oust Khan almost since his election in 2018.
Khan’s electoral victory was mired in controversy amid widespread allegations that Pakistan’s powerful army helped his Pakistani party Tehreek Insaf (Justice) win the elections.
Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert at the Washington-based US Institute of Peace, said the military’s involvement in the 2018 polls undermined Khan’s legitimacy from the start.
“The movement against Imran Khan’s government is intrinsically linked to his controversial rise to power in the 2018 election, which was rigged by the army to force Khan over the line,” Mir said. “That really undermined the legitimacy of the election exercise and created the reason for the current turmoil. ”
The Pakistani military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75-year history, overthrowing several democratically elected governments. For the rest of that time, she indirectly manipulated elected governments from the sidelines.
The opposition has also accused Khan of economic mismanagement, blaming him for rising prices and high inflation. Still, Khan’s government is credited with maintaining a US$18 billion foreign reserve account and raising a record US$29 billion from foreign Pakistanis last year.
Khan’s anti-corruption reputation is credited with encouraging expatriate Pakistanis to send money home. His administration has also received international praise for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis and the implementation of so-called “smart lockdowns” instead of nationwide shutdowns. As a result, several of Pakistan’s key industries, such as construction, have survived.
Khan’s leadership style has often been criticized as confrontational.
“Khan’s greatest failure was his insistence on remaining a party leader to the bitter end,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at Washington’s Wilson Center.
“He wasn’t ready to shake hands with his rivals down the aisle,” Kugelman said. “He has remained stubborn and unwilling to make important compromises. As a result, he has burned too many bridges at a moment when he desperately needs all the help he can get.”
Khan’s insistence on US involvement in attempts to oust him exploits a deep-seated suspicion of US intentions by many in Pakistan, particularly after 9/11, Mir said.
Washington has often berated Pakistan for doing too little against Islamist militants, even though thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in militant attacks and the army has lost more than 5,000 soldiers. Pakistan was attacked for helping the Taliban insurgents and was also asked to bring them to the peace table.
“The fact that it is so easy to grasp in Pakistan speaks to some of the damage that US foreign policy has done in the post-9/11 era in general and in Pakistan in particular,” Mir said. “There is a reservoir of anti-American sentiment in the country that politicians like Khan can easily exploit.”