Pakistan’s supreme court has dealt a devastating blow to the prime minister, Imran Khan, by ruling that he acted unconstitutionally in dissolving parliament prior to a confidence vote he was expected to lose, and ordering the vote to go ahead this weekend.
In the conclusion to a hearing that has gripped Pakistan for the past four days, the chief justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial, said Khan had violated the law in his attempt to stop the vote, which was widely expected to oust him.
The verdict said Khan was wrong to instruct the deputy speaker of the house, to close ally, to suspend the vote and wrong to ask the president to dissolve parliament on Sunday morning.
The bench of five judges ordered that a session of the national assembly be held on Saturday to allow for the confidence vote to go ahead. No member of the parliament will be restricted from voting.
Speaking after the verdict, Khan said he would continue to fight and would address the nation on Friday. “I have always & will continue to fight for Pak till the last ball,” he said on Twitteradding that he had called a meeting of his cabinet on Friday.
The leader of the opposition, Shahbaz Sharif, congratulated the nation and said: “The Constitution of Pakistan has been restored. The judiciary of Pakistan has upheld itself and its sanctity and has strengthened the sovereignty of Pakistan and its judiciary.”
Raza Rabbani, an opposition senator and lawyer, said: “This is a landmark and historic judgment and it would help to uphold the rule of law. It will have far-reaching impacts on Pakistan and the democratic setup, as the speaker had violated the constitution of Pakistan.”
The vote was tabled by the opposition coalition last month over what it said was Khan’s political and economic mismanagement. As it drew closer there was a wave of defections from Khan’s supporters and it became apparent he had lost his majority and was certain to lose the vote.
But hours before the vote on Sunday, the deputy speaker threw out the motion over allegations that it was the result of a “foreign conspiracy” by the west to unseat Khan. Khan then instructed the president to dissolve parliament and declared fresh elections in three months’ time.
The move created a constitutional crisis and prompted an outcry from the opposition, who called it an undemocratic move by a prime minister trying to hold on to power despite losing parliamentary support.
The opposition alliance took the matter up with the supreme court, where it has been deliberated for the past four days. On Thursday, on the final day of the hearing, chief justice Bandial emphasized that they wanted Pakistan to remain stable and noted that “assemblies can not be dissolved while a vote of no confidence is pending against the prime minister”.
Khan, 69, is a former playboy cricketer turned conservative Islamic politician who was elected in 2018 on the promise of rooting out corruption and boosting the economy.
Javed Nusrat, a prominent Pakistani columnist, said Khan could also continue to use the anti-American narrative against the supreme court because such narratives work.