By: Chandrashekar Bhat
PAKISTAN’S opposition has tabled a no-trust motion against prime minister Imran Khan as defections in his party and cracks in the ruling coalition appeared to have made his position fragile.
The National Assembly, the lower house of the bicameral parliament, will begin a debate on the motion on Thursday (31) and a vote will be held within seven days.
“The prime minister ceases to hold his office after he has lost the confidence of this House,” opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif said, reading from the no-confidence motion telecast live on Monday (28).
Khan, a former cricketer, needs 172 votes in the House of 342 to foil the bid. Since Khan’s allies with 23 members are not committed to supporting him and about two dozen lawmakers from within the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf have revolted, the result is unpredictable.
To placate one of its coalition partners, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Monday gave the post of chief minister of Punjab to the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) in return for its support to the prime minister.
The PML-Q has acquired a central role in the ongoing political drama despite having only five members in the National Assembly.
Khan’s protege and hand-picked Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar submitted his resignation to the prime minister.
Buzdar’s removal was also sought by rebel lawmakers and a no-confidence motion was also moved against him in the provincial assembly.
He will be replaced by Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.
However, it did not solve the prime minister’s problems.
PML-Q lawmaker Tariq Basheer Cheema said he resigned from the cabinet and will support the opposition in the no-confidence vote against Khan.
Another ally of the ruling coalition, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), on Monday announced that it “accepted the opposition’s invitation” to vote against Khan, making it stronger with 168 votes.
Khan, 69, is heading a coalition government and he can be removed if some of the partners decide to switch sides.
The PTI has 155 members in the National Assembly.
The country plunged into uncertainty on March 8 after the combined opposition submitted the no-confidence motion along with a requisition to the National Assembly speaker to summon a session within mandatory 14 days. The session was called on March 25, three days after the deadline.
Interior minister Sheikh Rashid said the resolution would be decided by March 31 and said the prime minister “is not going anywhere”.
In a show of strength ahead of the no-confidence motion, Khan last Sunday (27) addressed a mammoth rally in Islamabad where he claimed that foreign powers were involved in a conspiracy to topple his coalition government.
He claimed to have a letter as “evidence” to support his claims.
“Attempts are being made through foreign money to change the government in Pakistan. Our people are being used. Mostly inadvertently, but some people are using money against us. We know from what places attempts are being to pressure us. We have been threatened in writing, but we will not compromise on national interest,” Khan said.
“The letter I have is proof and I want to dare anyone who is doubting this letter. I will invite them off the record. We have to decide for how long we will have to live like this. We are getting threats. There are many things about the foreign conspiracy which will be shared very soon,” he said at the rally.
Khan came to power in 2018 with promises to create a “new Pakistan”, but failed to address the basic problem of keeping the prices of commodities in control.
The no-confidence motion comes as Pakistan faces a recurring economic crisis, with Khan’s government banking on the International Monetary Fund to release the next tranche of a $6 billion (£4.58 bn) rescue package to shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves.
The opposition and analysts said the prime minister has fallen out with the powerful military, which mostly determines who will rule, a charge both Khan and the military denied.