The no-confidence vote in Pakistan

The no-confidence vote in Pakistan

Why was the strictly stipulated Assembly session delayed? What lies ahead for the neighbouring country?

The story so far: For the fourth time in a week, Pakistan will awake to the possibility of a new Prime Minister being chosen by the National Assembly, after surprise moves by now-ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), ensured delay after delay in the process of the no-confidence motion against him. The election of the new PM originally scheduled for April 3, then stipulated under a Supreme Court order to have been held on April 9, is now due to be taken up on Monday. According to state-run media, the National Assembly Secretariat has accepted nomination papers of Shehbaz Sharif, the joint Opposition candidate of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and that of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, PTI Vice Chairman and Mr. Khan’s Foreign Minister, to be voted on Monday at 2 p.m.

Why didn’t the vote for the new PM take place over the weekend?

Despite very specific stipulations by the Supreme Court on convening the Assembly no-confidence motion vote against Khan no later than 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser first allowed a lengthy debate on the “foreign conspiracy” allegations levelled by Mr. Khan. In a national address on April 3, Mr. Khan alleged that there was a “regime change operation” underway against him at the behest of the United States. He even named U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu for threatening Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S. with consequences for Pakistan if Mr. Khan was allowed to win the confidence vote. In the Assembly, Mr. Qureshi claimed that U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also called Pakistan National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf, to tell him to stop Mr. Khan from visiting Russia on February 24.

The U.S. has categorically denied the claims. As the day wore on, with no end to the lengthy speeches, it seemed the PTI government would not allow the vote, and rumours went rife through Pakistan’s capital, including one that Mr. Khan was dismissing the Army Chief, and another that the Army was gathering forces to take Mr. Khan out forcibly.

Neither proved true however, and minutes before the Supreme Court-laid midnight deadline, the Speaker announced the no-confidence vote. In all, 174 votes were cast against Mr. Khan, two more than the majority mark in the 342-seat Assembly. Speaker Asad Qaider then stepped down, and it wasn’t until Sunday that nominations could be called for and scrutinised by the Assembly secretariat.

Does the Opposition have the numbers?

Not since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination have the two main Opposition parties, which have ruled Pakistan at different times — the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) —formed a government together. After 2008, when the party leaders Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari fell apart, they attempted to form the Pakistan Democracy Movement (PDM) with a number of other parties, but Mr. Zardari soon walked out of that. This time around, the PPP and the PML-N are joined in the effort to oust Mr. Khan with religious parties as well as more secular and regional parties from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Greeting the Assembly after the no-confidence vote, Mr. Zardari’s son Bilawal Bhutto took a dig at Mr. Khan’s promise of a “Naya Pakistan”, which often translated into rejecting and criticising Pakistan’s older and more established leaders. “Welcome back to Purana (Old) Pakistan,” he said. In a new government under Shehbaz Sharif, all eyes will be on whether Mr. Bhutto will be in the cabinet, with some even speculating a stint in the Foreign Office, even as the new Prime Minister deals with the mammoth challenges, of managing such a massive coalition of parties.

How has Imran Khan reacted to the defeat?

Mr. Khan, who had walked out of the Assembly with his party members before the confidence vote on Saturday, surfaced for party meetings on Sunday. In a tweet, he indicated that he planned to return to the streets to protest what he still maintains is a “foreign conspiracy of regime change”. “Pakistan became an independent state in 1947; but the freedom struggle begins again today,” Mr. Khan wrote.

Meanwhile PTI senior leader and former Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary indicated that the entire party would resign from the Assembly on Monday, and it remains to be seen if that threat is carried out. The new government elected would, in the absence of any other legal and political hurdles, remain in office for more than a year, with the current Assembly set to be dissolved on or before August 13, 2023, and general elections held by October 2023.

What other challenges would Shehbaz Sharif, if elected, face?

In a strange coincidence, Mr. Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Sharif, who is in the running as the next Chief Minister of Punjab, are also due to appear before a special court for indictment on Monday, the same day he expects to be elected in the National Assembly.

Mr. Sharif and his son have rejected the allegations in the case that was brought against them by federal authorities in 2019 for “money laundering” — an amount totalling PKR 14 billion ($75 million). Mr. Shehbaz Sharif called the “money laundering case” registered in the U.K. a political conspiracy by Mr. Khan. Both he and his son had been arrested in the case, and are now out on bail. Significantly, within hours of Mr. Khan losing the vote, the chief investigating officer in the case went on leave, anticipating a “certain transfer” if the government were to change. While the case itself may not pose much of a problem for Mr. Sharif, there are a number of other challenges any new government must face in terms of stemming the losses in the Pakistani economy, dealing with the situation in Afghanistan, terrorism domestically, and rebuilding ties with countries like India and the U.S., which have been in a state of disrepair during Mr. Khan’s tenure.

The Gist

  • The National Assembly Secretariat of Pakistan has accepted nomination papers of the joint Opposition candidate Shehbaz Sharif, and that of PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Voting is set to begin on Monday at 2 p.m.
  • Now ousted PM Imran Khan maintains that there is a “regime change operation” underway against him at the behest of the United States. The U.S. has categorically denied these claims. 174 votes were cast against Mr. Khan in a no-confidence vote in the Assembly on April 10.
  • Mr. Shehbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Sharif are due to appear before a special court on Monday in a case of money laundering brought against them by the federal authorities in 2019. Both he and his son had been arrested in the case, and are now out on bail.

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