ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s political opposition ousted the country’s embattled prime minister in a no-confidence vote early Sunday, which they won after several of Imran Khan’s allies and a key coalition party deserted him.
The combined opposition that spans the political spectrum from the left to the radicals will form the new government, with the head of one of the largest parties, the Pakistan Muslim League, as prime minister.
Ahead of his loss, Khan, who accused the opposition of colluding with the United States to dethrone him, has called on his supporters to hold nationwide rallies on Sunday. Khan’s options are limited and should he see a large turnout in his support, he could try to maintain the momentum of street protests as a way to pressure parliament to call early elections.
Khan had previously tried to circumvent the vote by dissolving parliament and calling early elections, but a Supreme Court ruling ordered the vote to go ahead.
The vote comes amid cooling relations between Khan and a powerful army that many of his political opponents claim helped him to power in the 2018 general election. The military has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half of his 75 years. and exercises considerable power over the civilian population. governments, concerned that a disaffected army may relieve them.
The opposition called for Khan’s ouster for economic mismanagement as inflation rises and the Pakistani rupee depreciates. The vote ends months of political unrest and a constitutional crisis that the Supreme Court has had to resolve.
In an impassioned speech on Friday, Khan reiterated his accusations that his opponents colluded with the United States to overthrow him over his foreign policy choices, which often appeared to favor China and Russia and defy the US.
Khan said Washington opposed his February 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, hours after tanks rolled into Ukraine and unleashed a devastating war in the heart of Europe.
Ahead of the vote, his lawmakers turned to Parliament to express outrage over a letter Khan said about a senior US official, unnamed, who informed top Pakistani diplomats that Washington’s relations with Pakistan would improve if Khan would be deposed. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari said the memo by the name of Khan said that if he ran out of power, “everything would be forgiven”.
She went on to ask, “Forgiving for what? What is our sin?”
The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s domestic politics. Deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters Friday there was “absolutely no truth in these allegations”.
Still, Khan urged his supporters to take to the streets, especially the youth who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricketer-turned-conservative Islamist politician came to power in 2018. He said they must protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and resist US dictates. †
“You have to come out and protect your own future. It is you who must protect your democracy, your sovereignty and your independence. … This is your duty,’ he said. “I will not accept an imposed government.”
Khan’s allegations of US involvement are likely to resonate with many in Pakistan, said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center.
“Khan’s conspiracy charges will resonate in a country where there is a tendency to attribute the worst possible motives to US policy, especially as there is a history of US interference in Pakistani politics,” Kugelman said.
Khan’s insistence that the US is involved in attempts to oust him also takes advantage of a deep-seated mistrust among many in Pakistan of US intentions, especially after 9/11.
Washington has often berated Pakistan for doing too little to fight Islamist militants, while thousands of Pakistanis have died at their hands and the military has lost more than 5,000 soldiers. Pakistan has been attacked for helping Afghan Taliban insurgents, while also being asked to bring them to the peace table.
The loss of Khan’s confidence vote brings some unlikely partners to power.
Among them is a radical religious party that runs dozens of religious schools. The Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam, or Assembly of Clerics, teaches a very conservative brand of Islam in its schools. Many of the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s own violent Taliban have graduated from JUI schools.
The largest of the opposition parties — the Pakistan People’s Party, led by the son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League — have been tainted by allegations of widespread corruption.
Pakistan Muslim League leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been convicted of corruption after being mentioned in the so-called Panama Papers. That is a collection of leaked classified financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest hide their money and involving a global law firm in Panama. Sharif was disqualified from office by the Pakistani Supreme Court. The new prime minister is expected to become Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, after a vote in parliament on Monday about the new prime minister.
“This would be the first time in Pakistan’s history that a no-confidence vote succeeds in ousting a prime minister — the fulfillment of a constitutional process far from guaranteed after Khan’s attempts to derail the vote,” he said.