Pakistan’s embattled prime minister faces a tough no-confidence vote Saturday waged by his political opposition, which says it has the numbers to defeat him.
A combined opposition that stretches the political spectrum from left to radically religious says it has the 172 votes it needs in Pakistan’s 342-seat Parliament to oust Imran Khan after Parliament agrees at 10:30 am local time.
Khan took to national television on the eve of the vote calling on his supporters to take to the streets to protest on Sunday, an indication he believed he would lose the vote, which was ordered by the Supreme Court. The five-member bench on Thursday blocked Khan’s bid to stay in power, ruling that his move by him to dissolve Parliament and call early elections was illegal.
Thursday’s court decision set the stage for a no-confidence vote, likely to go against Khan after several of his ruling party members and a small but key coalition partner defected.
In an impassioned speech Friday, Khan doubled down on his accusations that his opponents colluded with the United States to unseat him over his foreign policy choices, which often seemed to favor China and Russia and defied US criticism.
Khan said Washington opposed his Feb. 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin hours after tanks rolled into Ukraine launching a devastating war in the heart of Europe.
The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics. Deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters on Friday there was “absolutely no truth to these allegations.”
“Of course, we continue to follow these developments and support Pakistan’s constitutional process, but again these allegations are absolutely not true,” she said.
Still Khan urged his supporters, particularly the young who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricket star turned conservative Islamist politician came to power in 2018, to take to the streets. He said they needed to protest to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty, against an America that wants to dictate to Pakistan.
“You have to come out to protect your own future. It is you who have to protect your democracy, your sovereignty and your independence… This is your duty,” he said. “I will not accept an imposed government.”
Khan’s options are limited and should he see a big turnout in his support, he may try to keep the momentum of street protests as a way to pressure Parliament to dissolve and go to early elections.
A no-confidence vote loss for Khan on Saturday would bring to power in Pakistan an opposition of unlikely partners.
Among them is a radically religious party that runs scores of religious schools or madrassas. The Jamiat-e-ulema-Islam (JUI) or Assembly of Clerics teaches a deeply conservative brand of Islam in its schools and many of Afghanistan’s Taliban and Pakistan’s own homegrown violent Taliban members graduated from JUI schools.
The largest among the opposition parties — the Pakistan People’s Party, led by the son of the slain Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League — have been tainted by allegations of widespread corruption.
The Pakistan Muslim League leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was convicted of corruption after being named in the so-called Panama Papers — a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest hide their money and involving a global law firm based inPanama. He was disqualified by Pakistan’s Supreme Court from holding office.
If the opposition wins the no-confidence vote, it is up to Parliament to choose a new head of government — which could be Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif. If the lawmakers are unsuccessful, early elections would be called.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at www:twitter.com/Kathygannon