Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan is facing the biggest political crisis of his term and could be replaced by leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif in the country’s top job.
The Pakistan National Assembly has begun deliberating over a no-confidence motion against Mr Khan, with a vote due by Monday in a crisis feared to bring Pakistan into political uncertainty once again.
Mr Khan, 69, has been facing mounting criticism over his performance, especially his handling of the country’s economy amid concerns of a record increase in inflation and rising deficits.
The former cricket star, who was voted into power with a promise of acting against corruption, has lost key allies in a matter of weeks.
His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, faces a challenge from the joint front formed by two opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N).
The last nail in the coffin for Mr Khan was when his key ally Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, the leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), announced that his party was joining the opposition seeking him.
Robbed of his majority, Mr Khan only holds 164 votes out of the needed 172 to continue as prime minister and emerge out of this political crisis. The opposition is ready with a new candidate for the job.
On Wednesday, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari claimed Mr Khan had “lost [his] majority” to continue and declared Mr Sharif would soon become the country’s prime minister, confirming earlier reports he was the main contender.
“Imran Khan has now lost his majority. He is no longer the prime minister. The parliament session is tomorrow. Let’s hold voting tomorrow and settle this matter,” Mr Bhutto said on Wednesday.
“We can then start working on transparent elections and the journey towards restoration of democracy and an end to economic crisis can then begin,” the PPP chairman further said.
Mr Sharif is the brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and has been the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly since August 2018. He is also the current leader of the PML-N and took charge after his brother, who formed the party and is currently in London, was disqualified from holding office.
Mr Sharif has been a politician for over two and a half decades and has thrice served as the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s wealthiest state, making him the longest-serving head of the province.
His career has included years of self-exile in Saudi Arabia after a military coup deposed his brother’s government in 1999 and he faced charges of money laundering.
In September 2020, Mr Sharif was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau of Pakistan on charges of laundering over Rs 7,328m (£30m) in a scheme involving close associates and family members. He was later released on bail.
While Mr Sharif enjoys popular support right now, Mr Khan isn’t letting it go without a fight either. The prime minister is set to address the nation on Thursday evening ahead of the vote and had earlier called a massive rally last Sunday to show his support base for him.
Mr Khan has also repeatedly blamed “foreign powers” for the move to oust him because he had taken what he termed independent foreign policy decisions.