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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Explained: Facing no-trust vote, what are Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s options now?

Imran Khan has been hoping to hang on through a last-minute deal with coalition partners. Some in his government are urging him to call a snap election, a year ahead from when it is due in 2023, but that would come with its own uncertainties.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 31, 2022 10:19:05 am
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives to attend a military parade to mark Pakistan National Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (Reuters Photo/File)

Pakistan’s opposition parties were able to finally table a motion of no-confidence in the National Assembly against Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday (March 28). The debate on the resolution is set to begin on March 31, when the House will sit again.

Procedures demand that after tabling, the motion should be voted upon no earlier than the expiry of three days, and no later than seven. The opposition parties have accused the Speaker of violating constitutionally laid down procedures by not convening the Assembly earlier.

Now that the process has started, the countdown has begun for the cricketer-turned-Prime Minister, or has it? Imran had vowed to play on “until the last ball”, and he appears to be digging in to do just that.

What is the Prime Minister trying to do?

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Imran Khan has been hoping to hang on through a last-minute deal with coalition partners. Some in his government are urging him to call a snap election, a year ahead from when it is due in 2023, but that would come with its own uncertainties.

Until Monday, he did not seem to have many cards up his sleeve, but he is now engaged in frantic last-minute political deal-making to shore up his numbers.

The PTI coalition has been bleeding supporters daily. The National Assembly has 342 members, and Imran’s ruling coalition had 179 — but on Sunday, that came down to 178 after the Balochistan-based Jamhoori Watan Party, which has one member in Parliament, withdrew from the alliance.

So does he have the numbers to survive the no-trust vote?

Imran and PTI managers have been trying to get the other three allies, the PML-Q, the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, who have between them 17 MNAs, to declare their opposition to the no-confidence motion. All three parties have indicated that they are undecided.

On Monday evening, after the motion was tabled, Imran Khan offered the PML(Q) the chief ministership of the Punjab province. The extremely unpopular Usman Buzdar, an Imran nominee, resigned as chief minister, making way for the PML(Q) head Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi, who had held the office during the Musharraf years.

On the other hand, the BAP, which too has just a single member in Parliament, has withdrawn from the ruling coalition.

And the MQM is mulling the offer of the Sindh governorship that Imran has made to the party.

But Imran would still need to bring back between a dozen and two dozen members from within the PTI who have rebelled against his leadership, and are likely to vote against him. Many of these leaders are from South Punjab, and in what appears to be a move to entice them back, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is also a notable from the same region, has submitted a bill for the creation of a separate province of South Punjab.

The creation of such a province, carved out of Pakistan’s Punjab province, has been a long-standing regional demand, but it has never been seriously discussed by the Punjabi dominated political and security elite, as it would undermine their own powerful and pre-eminent position.

What is crucial though to all these efforts is that they need the backing of the security establishment. And the Army and the ISI, which were instrumental in putting Imran Khan in office in 2018, have signalled that they no longer want him there.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, along with party leaders attend a public rally in Islamabad, Pakistan March 27, 2022. (Reuters Photo: Akhtar Soomro)

Who is the “man in London” that Imran is accusing of acting against Pakistan?

On Sunday, the Prime Minister held a huge rally in Islamabad, close to the National Assembly, as a show of strength against the opposition. Borrowing from a Quranic exhortation, he called the rally Amr bil Mar’uf (encourage the good). According to Dawn, a large number of people, supporters of Imran and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, attended the rally.

Like many embattled leaders in South Asia before him fighting to survive in office, Imran lashed out at a “foreign hand”, and at the opposition PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif, alleging that “a man sitting in London” was working against the interests of Pakistan. He alleged that attempts were being made to influence the foreign policy of Pakistan against the nation’s interests.

“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 made to pressure us. We have been threatened in writing but we will not compromise on national interest,” he said.

Imran said he was presenting “a case for Pakistan’s independence” and would share details of the “foreign conspiracy” very soon with the people. He claimed to have incontrovertible proof of this alleged conspiracy in the form of a letter.

“The nation wants to know who the man sitting in London is meeting with and whose directions the characters based in Pakistan are following? I am revealing the proof we have. I cannot talk more in detail because I have to protect the interest of my country. I cannot talk about anything that harms my country. I could have told you about it. I do not fear anyone but I care about Pakistan’s interest,” he said.

Does Imran have another option at this moment?

He could dissolve the government and call for fresh elections as some of his ministers have been advising. He seems to have given this option some thought — his rally on Sunday was almost an election campaign speech.

If he manages to go down fighting as a political martyr to the cause of democracy, he may win back some of the support base that has deserted him over the last two or three years. But election outcomes cannot be predicted with uncertainty.

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