Pakistani president dissolves parliament as beleaguered prime minister calls for snap election

Pakistan’s president dissolved the country’s parliament on Sunday, setting the stage for a snap election after the prime minister avoided a no-confidence move earlier in the day.

Imran Khan has called on President Arif Alvi to dissolve the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, accusing his political opposition of working with the United States to overthrow his government.

Pakistan’s constitution calls for the establishment of an interim government to lead the country to elections, which must be held within 90 days.

“Now I have advised the President of Pakistan to dissolve the assemblies. In a democratic society, we democrats will go to the people for the elections. Elections will be held and the people will decide who they want,” Khan said. after surviving a decision to oust him as prime minister.

Khan’s political opponents called the deputy speaker’s decision to reject their no-confidence resolution illegal and vowed to go to the Supreme Court.

The battle between Khan, a cricket star turned conservative Islamic leader, and his political opposition has thrown the nation into political turmoil.

“Conspiracy to overthrow the government”

The latest developments came after Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry accused the opposition of colluding with a “foreign power” to engineer “regime change”.

“I ask people to prepare for the next elections. Thank God a plot to overthrow the government has failed,” Khan said in his speech.

The opposition arrived in parliament ready to oust Khan from power. They needed a simple majority of 172 votes in Pakistan’s 342-seat parliament to oust Khan, a cricketer star turned conservative Islamic politician. Khan’s small but major coalition partners along with 17 members of his own party joined the opposition to oust him.

The vote of no confidence was expected sometime after parliament convened on Sunday, but parliamentary rules allow for three to seven days of debate. The opposition said they had the numbers for an immediate vote.

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 claims US interference

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.”

Security personnel arrive on Sunday to take up position in front of the National Assembly in Islamabad. (Anjum Naveed/Associated Press)

A defeat for Khan would have given his opponents the chance to form a new government and rule until elections, which were due to be held next year.

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, this province 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.

Accusations of supporting the army during the 2018 elections

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 turmoil.”

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. Still, the Khan government is credited with maintaining a US$18 billion foreign exchange reserve account and bringing in a record US$29 billion last year from overseas Pakistanis.