Pakistani PM faces tough challenge with vote of no confidence
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s embattled prime minister faces a no-confidence vote in parliament on Sunday and the opposition says it has the numbers to win after Imran Khan’s allies and partners in a shaky coalition abandoned him.
The vote is expected to take place on Sunday after parliament meets at 11:30 a.m. (0630 GMT), but Pakistani parliamentary rules allow for three to seven days of debate. The opposition says it has the numbers for an immediate vote, but Khan’s party could force a delay.
On Sunday, giant metal containers blocked roads and entrances to the capital’s diplomatic enclave as well as parliament and other sensitive government facilities in the capital. A defiant Khan called on supporters to stage demonstrations across the country to protest the vote.
Khan accused the opposition of colluding with the United States to overthrow him, saying America wanted him to review its foreign policy choices that often favor China and Russia. Khan has also been a vocal opponent of the US War on Terror and Pakistan’s partnership in that war with Washington.
Khan circulated a memo that he said provides evidence that Washington conspired with the Pakistani opposition to overthrow him because America wants “me, personally, gone…and all would be forgiven.”
Residents of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, were due to vote on Sunday for a new chief minister. Khan’s choice faced a tough challenge and his opponents claimed they had enough votes to install their choice.
With 60% of Pakistan’s 220 million people living in Punjab, it is considered the most powerful of the country’s four provinces. Also on Sunday, the government announced the removal of the province’s governor, whose role is largely ceremonial and chosen by the federal government. But it has further aggravated the political turmoil in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s main opposition parties, whose ideologies range from left to right to religious radicals, have been mobilizing for Khan’s ouster almost since his election in 2018.
Khan’s victory was mired in controversy amid widespread accusations that Pakistan’s mighty military helped his Pakistani Tehreek Insaf (Justice) party secure victory.
Asfandyar Mir, a senior expert with the Washington-based American Institute for Peace, said the military’s involvement in the 2018 elections undermined Khan’s legitimacy from the start.
“The movement against Imran Khan’s government is inseparable from his controversial rise to power in the 2018 elections, which was manipulated by the military to push Khan over the line,” Mir said. “It really undermined the legitimacy of the electoral exercise and created the basis for the current unrest. ”
The Pakistani military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75-year history, toppling successive democratically elected governments. For the remainder of this period, he indirectly manipulated elected governments from the sidelines.
The opposition also accused Khan of economic mismanagement, blaming him for rising prices and high inflation. Yet the Khan government is credited with maintaining an $18 billion foreign exchange reserve account and bringing in a record $29 billion last year from overseas Pakistanis.
Khan’s anti-corruption reputation is credited with encouraging expatriate Pakistanis to send money home. His government has also received praise from the international community for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis and implementing so-called “smart lockdowns” rather than nationwide shutdowns. As a result, several key industries in Pakistan, such as construction, have survived.
Khan’s leadership style has often been criticized as confrontational.
“Khan’s greatest failure was his insistence on remaining a partisan leader to the bitter end,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy Asia program director at the Washington-based Wilson Center.
“He hasn’t been willing to reach out across the aisle to his rivals,” Kugelman said. “He remained stubborn and unwilling to make significant compromises. As a result, he’s cut too many bridges at a time when he badly needs all the help he can get.
Khan’s insistence on US involvement in attempts to overthrow him taps into a deep-rooted mistrust among many Pakistanis of US intentions, particularly after 9/11, Mir said.
Washington has often chastised Pakistan for doing too little to fight Islamic militants even as thousands of Pakistanis have died in militant attacks and the army has lost more than 5,000 troops. Pakistan has been attacked for aiding Taliban insurgents while being asked to bring them to the peace table.
“The fact that he has such easy traction in Pakistan speaks to some of the damage done by US foreign policy post-9/11 in general and Pakistan in particular,” Mir said. “There is a reservoir of anti-American sentiment in the country, which can be easily exploited by politicians like Khan.”