Pakistani PM faces tough no-confidence vote | world news

By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s embattled prime minister faces a tough no-confidence vote Saturday brought in by his political opponents, who say they have the votes to defeat him.

A combined opposition that spans the political spectrum from leftist to radically religious says it has the 172 votes it needs in Pakistan’s 342-seat parliament to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Khan went on national television on the eve of the vote, calling on his supporters to take to the streets to demonstrate on Sunday in a sign he believed he would lose the vote. Pakistan’s five-member Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Khan’s bid to stay in power, ruling that his decision to dissolve parliament and call a snap election was illegal.

Thursday’s court decision paved the way for a no-confidence vote, which was likely to go against Khan after several members of his ruling party and a small but key coalition partner defected.

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In a brief exchange in parliament on Saturday, opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif warned of further delays. Sharif is a likely candidate to replace Khan should Khan lose the vote.

Khan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, meanwhile demanded an investigation into the ruling party’s allegations that the vote of no confidence was a ploy by the opposition and America to topple Khan.

Speaker of Parliament Asad Qaiser ended the debate without commenting on the call for an inquiry ahead of the vote and instead adjourned parliament until 12:30 p.m. local time. Khan was not present.

In an impassioned speech on Friday, Khan doubled down on his accusations that his opponents colluded with the United States to unseat him over his foreign policy choices, which often appeared to favor China and Russia and defied American critics.

Khan said Washington objected to his February 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin hours after tanks arrived in Ukraine, sparking a devastating war in the heart of Europe.

The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s domestic politics. On Friday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters there was “absolutely no truth to these allegations.”

“Of course, we continue to follow these developments and support Pakistan’s constitutional process, but again, these allegations are absolutely not true,” she said.

Still, Khan urged his supporters to take to the streets, especially young people who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricketer star turned conservative Islamist politician came to power in 2018. He said that they should protest against an America that wants to dictate to Pakistan to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty.

“You have to come out to protect your own future. It is you who must protect your democracy, your sovereignty and your independence. … It is your duty,” he said. “I will not accept an imposed government.”

Khan’s options are limited and if he sees a strong turnout in favour, he may try to maintain the momentum of street protests as a way to pressure parliament to dissolve and go to a snap election. .

A loss of a no-confidence vote for Khan on Saturday would bring unlikely partners to power.

Among them is a radically religious party that runs dozens of religious schools. The Jamiat-e-ulema-Islam, or Assembly of Clerics, teaches a deeply conservative form of Islam in its schools. Many Taliban from Afghanistan and violent Taliban of Pakistani descent have graduated from JUI schools.

The largest of the opposition parties – the Pakistan People’s Party, led by the son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League – have been marred by allegations of widespread corruption.

Pakistan Muslim League leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been found guilty of corruption after being named in the so-called Panama Papers. This is a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest are hiding their money and implicating a global law firm based in Panama. Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan from holding office.

If the opposition wins the vote of no confidence, it is up to parliament to choose a new head of government, who could be Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif. If lawmakers fail, snap elections will be called.

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at www:twitter.com/Kathygannon

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