Pakistan’s lower house of parliament, or the National Assembly, reconvened Saturday to begin the vote process on an opposition-launched no-confidence motion seeking Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ouster.
Khan renewed his allegations late Friday that the United States was behind the vote against him and said he would not recognize an opposition government if he is ousted eventually.
The embattled Pakistani leader made the remarks in a late-night televised address to the nation.
Khan spoke a day after the Supreme Court set aside his move to block the vote, which was due to take place last Sunday. The house deputy speaker, a member of Khan's ruling party, had ruled the vote was unlawful for being sponsored by a "foreign power."
Khan then dissolved the parliament and his Cabinet and called for fresh elections in 90 days.
But the country's top court, winding up several days of hearings Thursday, declared the deputy speaker’s ruling unconstitutional and restored the assembly. It also ordered the house speaker to arrange the vote, tabled by leader of the united opposition, Shehbaz Sharif.
"I am disappointed by the Supreme Court verdict … It has saddened me, but we accept it," Khan said in his televised speech.
"I will not accept an imported government, and I am determined to vehemently agitate against it," he said, calling for his supporters to stage nationwide peaceful protests Sunday.
The 69-year-old former cricket star, who took office in 2018, defended his blocking of the vote, alleging that the no-confidence motion was the result of U.S. meddling in his country's politics. Khan said he has a cable or diplomatic communication from the Pakistani ambassador in Washington to prove it.
"I wanted the Supreme Court to at least look into it (the cable). It was a very serious allegation that a foreign country wants to topple the government through a conspiracy," Khan said.
A State Department representative in Washington reiterated Friday that there is no truth to Khan's allegations.
"We continue to follow these developments, and we respect and support Pakistan's constitutional process and rule of law," Jalina Porter said in response a VOA question while addressing a news conference. "But again, these allegations are absolutely not true."
Khan alleged in his speech once again that he was being punished by Washington for visiting Russia and pursuing an "independent foreign policy" for Pakistan. He visited President Vladimir Putin on the day the Russian troops invaded Ukraine.
The prime minister had lost his majority in the 342-member house in the run-up to Sunday's vote when lawmakers from his ruling party defected and main coalition partners switched sides and joined the opposition.
The power tussle has plunged the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people into political and economic turmoil.
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, won the most seats in the 2018 election, but it did not get a majority, forcing him to form a coalition government.
The united opposition has announced that Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, will be their candidate for prime minister should the vote bring down the Khan government, which is due to complete its five-year mandated term in 2023.
Even if it loses the no-confidence vote, the PTI will remain the largest political force, with 155 seats in the legislative assembly.
The PML-N, with 83 seats, is the second-biggest party in the assembly, followed by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), with 56 seats.
Opposition leaders have said they are in favor of early general elections, but they want the new government to pass certain laws after winning the no-trust vote to ensure the next polls are free and fair.
For his part, Khan reiterated Friday that the opposition wants to undo crucial legislation his government passed to introduce electronic voting machines for the next elections for the first time in Pakistan, saying the measure will deter election rigging and fraud.
The prime minister claims the manual voting system now used in Pakistan has been heavily manipulated and politicized in favor of PML-N and PPP while the two parties were in power between 2008 and 2018.
Direct and indirect military interventions are blamed for the fragility of democracy in Pakistan, where no elected prime minister has served out a full five-year term since the founding of the country 75 years ago.