ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s parliament began voting on a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday, ending a 13-hour impasse over the vote he is expected to lose.
The voting came after the country’s powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met Khan, two sources said, as criticism mounted over the delay in the parliamentary process.
Lower house Speaker Asad Qaisar, a member of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, who had adjourned the house three times on Saturday, announced his resignation, heightening the drama in the chamber.
“The country’s interests must be the priority,” he said.
Khan’s allies blocked the no-confidence motion last week and dissolved the lower house of parliament, prompting the country’s Supreme Court to intervene and allow the vote to go through. The prime minister’s supporters claim there is a foreign conspiracy to oust him.
Khan, 69, surged to power in 2018 with the military’s support, but recently lost his parliamentary majority when allies quit his coalition government.
Opposition parties say he has failed to revive an economy battered by COVID-19 or fulfill promises to make Pakistan a corruption-free, prosperous nation respected on the world stage.
The cricket star turned politician has vowed to “struggle” against any move to replace him.
The editor-in-chief of the Friday Times Najam Sethi said Imran Khan seemed bent on defying the orders of the Supreme Court.
“That means he is either on a politically suicidal path or is being egged on to continue resistance in the expectation of last minute support/intervention from elements in the Miltablishment,” he said, referring to the military.
Before Saturday’s session was adjourned, opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif, expected to become prime minister if Khan is ousted, urged lower house Speaker Qaiser to ensure the vote was carried out as a matter of priority.
The speaker said he would implement the court order “in true letter and spirit.”
NO ‘IMPORTED GOVERNMENT’
The opposition and some analysts say Khan has fallen out with the military, a charge he and the military deny. The army has ruled the state for half its 75-year post-colonial history, and no prime minister has completed a full five-year term.
Khan, who enjoyed widespread popular support when he took office, said late on Friday he was disappointed with the top court ruling but accepted it. But he said he would not recognize any opposition government that replaced him.
“I will not accept an imported government,” he told the nation in a late-night address, suggesting the move to oust him was part of a foreign conspiracy and calling for peaceful protests on Sunday. “I’m ready for a struggle. “
Khan has accused the United States of supporting a plot to oust him, without offering evidence of his claim, which Washington has dismissed. He opposed the US-led intervention in Afghanistan and has developed relations with Russia since becoming prime minister.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad, Syed Raza Hassan and Gribran Naiyyar Peshimam in Islamabad; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by William Mallard and Jan Harvey)