Imran Khan dissolves parliament and blocks vote of no confidence

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Imran Khan has dissolved Pakistan’s National Assembly and called for new elections on Sunday, stall...

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Imran Khan has dissolved Pakistan’s National Assembly and called for new elections on Sunday, stalling a vote of no confidence it was widely expected that he would be removed from office and plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.

The extraordinary move added to the political unrest that gripped Pakistan after international cricket star-turned-politician Mr Khan lost the support of the country’s mighty military and a coalition of ruling parties. opposition.

The crisis has been deepening for weeks, but its latest twist threatens to destabilize the fragile democracy of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country that supports the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and has fought instability and military coups since its founding 75 years ago. Yet even in a country accustomed to unrest, Sunday’s events were stunning.

“Never in the history of Pakistan has such a thing happened,” said Ashtar Ausaf Ali, Pakistan’s former attorney general.

Opposition lawmakers filed a petition challenging the decision in the country’s Supreme Court, saying it amounted to an “open coup against the country and the Constitution”. Allies of Mr Khan have said the court has no power to intervene in Legislative Assembly business and repeated Mr Khan’s recent claim that the vote was part of a conspiracy backed by the United States to overthrow him.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on Monday, setting the stage for a showdown with the country’s power.

Under Mr. Khan, Pakistan has moved away from the United States, adopting a strategic partnership with China and closer ties with Russia. If he manages to stay in power, his accusations that US officials tried to orchestrate regime change in Pakistan will likely continue to chill relations between the two countries.

But the vice-president, Qasim Khan Suri, an ally of Mr Khan, rejected the motion of no confidence. He said Mr Khan was still Prime Minister and still had the power to dissolve the Assembly.

In a televised address on Sunday, Mr Khan confirmed that he had ordered the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly and doubled down on his claim that opposition parties were colluding with US officials in a plot to impeach him. Mr Khan has provided no evidence to support his claims and US officials have denied the allegations.

Mr Khan called for a snap election to resolve the political crisis, which his party members said should be held within 90 days.

“Get ready for the elections,” Mr. Khan said. “No corrupt force will decide the future of the country.”

This decision clearly took the opposition by surprise. Its leader, Shehbaz Sharif, held hasty meetings with his party leaders as they tried to determine their next steps.

“It was a sad day in the history of Pakistan. The nascent democracy has been hit and damaged in a very, very brutal way,” said Mr. Sharif, who was to become caretaker prime minister if Mr. Khan was removed from office.

Opposition lawmakers refused to leave the National Assembly building, apparently hoping to pressure the Supreme Court to act. A handful of lawmakers from Mr. Khan’s party waved their fists as they left the building, repeatedly shouting: “Imran Khan, your supporters are countless.”

Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on Monday, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial urged all political parties to maintain law and order until a verdict is delivered – alluding to fears that Mr Khan does not spark street commotion or even violence as it has in the past.

Preparing for that eventuality, paramilitary troops and police have been deployed since Friday to effectively cordon off the so-called red zone in Islamabad, the capital, which houses government buildings, including parliament.

Many constitutional experts have said the nation’s Supreme Court is likely to rule against the vice president’s rejection of the vote of no confidence.

“The constitutional gymnastics necessary to make this action legal would really undermine the legitimacy of the court,” said Yasser Kureshi, a postdoctoral fellow in constitutional law at the University of Oxford.

Mr. Bandial added that several judges in the court had expressed concern about the situation after Mr. Khan dissolved the Assembly, questioning the constitutionality of his decision.

Yet that does not guarantee that Mr Khan will be ousted. The longer the court takes to reach a verdict, the more time Mr Khan’s government will have to try to weaken the opposition ahead of the next general election. Even if the court rules the ruling party’s decision on Sunday as unconstitutional, it may not allow a vote of no confidence in restoring the dissolved assemblies, pushing instead for a snap general election to resolve the political crisis.

The Supreme Court is also not above the fray in Pakistani politics and has often found itself embroiled in controversy.

“Our Supreme Court has a tainted past. Whether sanctifying military coups, sending political leaders to the gallows, or clearly assuming executive power outside their domain,” Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, a lawmaker from Pakistan People’s Opposition Party, said in a tweet.

Some analysts in Pakistan have speculated that as the crisis drags on, Mr Khan may have members of the opposition arrested, on the grounds that they were part of what he claims is a US plot to to dismiss him. Mr Khan has led a growing crackdown on dissent and opponents have accused him of targeting opposition members under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign.

Outside the house of parliament, an MP from Mr Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Kanwal Shauzab, said arresting opposition members was a ‘possibility’ as long as it was done ‘in accordance with the law from the country”.

“We are not going to sue the opposition for no reason. This is what they have done. They have to pay for their own actions,” she added.

Such arrests could reduce the majority that seemed poised to oust Mr Khan. But his move on Sunday appeared to risk costing him his own supporters. An outspoken MP from his party, Aamir Liaquat Husain, resigned in protestjoining dozens of members of Mr Khan’s coalition who have defected in recent weeks.

Trying to avoid such defections, the interior minister said Tehreek-e-Insaf had the support of Pakistani institutions to dissolve the Legislative Assembly – an apparent reference to the military, whose support is seen as essential to the survival of Pakistani civilian governments.

The military appeared to withdraw support for Mr Khan late last year after a dispute over his leadership and long-running differences over the country’s foreign policy and security agenda. The military leaders, who have expressed interest in deepening Pakistan’s ties with the United States, have argued that the military remains neutral in the current political crisis.

But an army spokesman denied being involved in or supporting Sunday’s developments. It was the first time that military leaders had suggested so openly that they did not support Mr Khan’s bid to remain in office. For some, it raised the possibility of military intervention – a familiar pattern in Pakistan’s history – if the political crisis dragged on.

“Historically, the longer such a constitutional stalemate lasts,” Kureshi said, “the greater the chance of some sort of military intervention.”

Christina Goldbaum and Salman Massoud reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Imran Khan dissolves parliament and blocks vote of no confidence
Imran Khan dissolves parliament and blocks vote of no confidence
Newsrust - US Top News
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