Islamabad (Times Of Ocean)- Pakistan’s political turmoil worsened on Sunday when Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to step down and sought fresh elections, a move that the opposition called treasonous and pledged to resist.
Deputy speaker of parliament, a member of Khan’s party, blocked an opposition no-confidence motion that Khan was widely expected to lose.
However, the reprieve created the possibility of a constitutional battle, increasing the uncertainty in the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people.
Arif Alvi, a member of Khan’s party, approved his request to dissolve the parliament, and Khan urged the nation to prepare for fresh elections.
However, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, head of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, promised a sit-in at the parliament and told reporters, “We will also move to the Supreme Court today.”
Shehbaz Sharif, the leading candidate to replace Khan if he were removed, called the parliamentary block “nothing short of high treason”.
“There will be consequences for blatant & brazen violation of the Constitution,” Sharif said on Twitter, saying he hoped the Supreme Court would play a role to uphold the Constitution.
Khan is blamed by the opposition for failing to revive the economy and crack down on corruption. He alleges that the move to oust him was orchestrated by the United States, a claim Washington denies.
Former international cricketer turned politician Khan, who rose to power in 2018 on the military’s support, has fallen out with it, a charge he and the military deny.
In response to a Reuters question about the army’s involvement in Sunday’s developments, Major General Babar Iftikhar said: “The Army has no role in the political process.”
The chief justice’s office said the Supreme Court is aware of Sunday’s political developments.
The chief justice has taken note of the current situation. Further details will be shared soon, his office said in a statement.
Since Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947, no prime minister has completed a full period of five years, and generals have ruled the country on several occasions, which is perpetually at odds with its nuclear-armed neighbour, India.
Farrukh Habib, the state minister for information, said new elections would be held in 90 days, although the decision rests with the president and the election commission.
The opposition vows to fight PM Khan’s ouster as Pakistan faces fresh turmoil
Fawad Chaudhry said in a tweet that Khan will remain prime minister despite his cabinet being dissolved.
A top prosecutor, Raja Khalid, resigned, declaring the move by the government unconstitutional.
“What has happened can only be expected in the rule of a dictator,” he told local media.
It faces high inflation, dwindling foreign reserves, and widening deficits, which could lead to new instability in Pakistan. Currently, the country is undergoing a difficult bailout program from the International Monetary Fund.
Along with the economic crisis, Islamabad faces challenges such as balancing international pressure on the Taliban to meet human rights commitments in neighbouring Afghanistan with an attempt to limit instability there.
Khan lost his majority in parliament after allies quit his coalition government and a wave of defections from within his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
As coalition partners and some of his own lawmakers defected earlier in the week, Khan had appeared to fall short of the 172 votes needed to survive the no-confidence vote had the opposition remained united.
In a prominent newspaper, Khan was recently described as “as good as gone,” but he urged his supporters to take to the streets ahead of the planned vote.
Before the speaker’s dais, Khan’s party members chanted, “A friend of America is a traitor to Pakistan.” Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri announced that the no-confidence motion was against the constitution.
Despite the unexpected move, opposition benches remained mostly seated.
In Islamabad, there was heavy police and paramilitary presence, with shipping containers used to block off roads, according to a Reuters witness.
Three supporters of Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party were detained outside parliament, but the streets were otherwise calm.