Pakistan’s Supreme Court is later on Monday to hear arguments surrounding Prime Minister Imran Khan’s shock decision to call snap elections to avoid a no-confidence vote that would have ousted him from office.
The opposition had expected to take power on Sunday after garnering enough votes to oust the cricketer-turned-politician, but the deputy speaker of the National Assembly refused to go ahead with the motion citing “foreign interference”.
At the same time, Khan asked the presidency – a largely ceremonial office held by a loyalist – to dissolve the assembly, meaning an election must be held within 90 days.
On paper and pending a court decision, Khan will remain in office for at least two weeks or until an interim government is formed to oversee the elections.
“Khan’s ‘surprise’ sparks a constitutional crisis,” The Nation newspaper thundered on Monday, while its rival Dawn slammed it as “a farce of democracy” via a front-page editorial.
Under the Constitution, a prime minister cannot demand the dissolution of the assembly while facing a vote of no confidence.
An alliance of normally feuding dynastic parties had planned for weeks to dismantle the tenuous coalition that made Khan prime minister in 2018, but he claimed they had gone too far by colluding with the United States for “regime change”.
Khan insists he has evidence of Washington involvement – which he does not wish to disclose publicly – although local media reported it was merely a letter from the Pakistani ambassador following a briefing with a senior US official.
Western powers want him removed because he will not stand by them on global issues against Russia and China, Khan said.
Washington has denied any involvement.
The Pakistani Supreme Court has since received a number of lawsuits and petitions from the government and opposition on the crisis, but has also taken up the “suo moto” case – on its own initiative.
“This is an urgent matter,” Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial said late Sunday.
The current court is said to be independent, but human rights activists say previous benches have been used by civil and military administrations to impose their wishes on Pakistan’s history.
Khan was elected after promising to clean up decades of entrenched corruption and nepotism but has struggled to maintain support amid soaring inflation, a weak rupee and crippling debt.
Some analysts said Khan also lost crucial military support, but it is unlikely he would have pulled off Sunday’s maneuvers without his knowledge – if not his blessing.
There have been four military coups — and at least as many unsuccessful ones — since independence in 1947, and the country has spent more than three decades under army rule.
“The best option in this situation is new elections so that the new government can deal with the country’s economic, political and external problems,” said Talat Masood, a general-turned-political analyst.
As the opposition struggled to respond, Khan taunted them on Twitter.
“Amazed at the reaction,” he tweeted, adding that the opposition had “cried hoarsely” at the government’s failure and the loss of popular support.
“So why the fear of elections now?”