New Delhi/Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared to be on his way out after his ruling coalition lost its majority in parliament on Wednesday, with a key ally switching allegiance to the opposition ahead of a vote of no-confidence this weekend.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), part of the government led by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), announced at a joint news conference by opposition parties in Islamabad that it had parted ways with the coalition. MQM-P has seven lawmakers and their votes are set to give the opposition a distinct advantage.
The cricketer-turned-politician needs 172 votes in the 342-member National Assembly or lower house to survive the opposition’s bid to topple him. According to an estimate, the combined opposition has the backing of 177 lawmakers even without the support of some two dozen PTI dissidents, while the ruling party has 164 MPs in its camp.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islama-Fazl (JUI-F), said Khan should resign. The combined opposition named Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president and leader of opposition Shehbaz Sharif as its prime ministerial candidate to replace the 69-year-old Khan.
“We want to make a new beginning for politics of tolerance and true democracy,” MQM-P chief Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui said. “I announce we will support the opposition in Parliament.”
Another member of the ruling coalition, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) with five lawmakers, announced on Monday it would join the opposition to vote against Khan.
Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of former premier Nawaz Sharif, said it was an important day as all opposition parties have come together to forge national unity and address the problems faced by Pakistan. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), said MQM’s decision meant the PM had lost his majority. “The PM has no option and he will have to resign,” he said.
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No Pakistani PM has ever completed a full term, largely due to the volatile politics of the country that has been ruled for half its history by the powerful military. Khan is facing the biggest challenge since being elected in 2018, with the opposition accusing him of poor governance, mismanaging the economy and foreign-policy bungling.
Khan called off plans to address the nation while his aides also continued to push a conspiracy theory — first propounded by Khan himself at a public rally on March 27 — that there was an “international conspiracy” against the government. At the rally, Khan displayed what he contended was a letter offering proof of this conspiracy.
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Though Khan also cancelled a planned meeting with senior journalists to share copies of the letter, his aide Asad Umar shared its purported contents with a few reporters on Wednesday. The letter purportedly states foreign pressure on Pakistan would abate if the no-confidence vote is successful, Umar told the reporters.
Khan met Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) head Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum to discuss the political situation. He also chaired a special meeting of his cabinet and shared the “threatening letter” with his colleagues.
Rashid said Khan or foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi might also brief the parliament behind closed doors about the letter.
Meanwhile, Khan’s close aides maintained he would not step down and that he faced serious threats to his life. “He will fight until the last over and the last ball,” interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said, referring to Khan’s status as one of the all-time greats of cricket before he entered politics.
Another aide, former minister Faisal Vawda, claimed Khan’s life was in danger as a conspiracy was hatched to “assassinate” him.
The combined opposition’s motion for the vote of no confidence is expected to be taken up during the weekend. The Pakistani parliament will convene on Thursday to debate the motion. On Tuesday, Khan directed his party lawmakers to either abstain or not attend the National Assembly session on the day of the vote, which is likely to be on April 3.
Though Khan was reputed to have changed the fate of cricket matches single handedly as Pakistan’s celebrated World Cup-winning captain, the odds may be stacked too heavily in his favour on the political pitch this time.