Pakistan's Supreme Court began Monday an urgent hearing into opposition allegations the blocking of a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Imran Khan was a violation of the country's constitution.
The hearing stemmed from Sunday’s special session of the 342-member National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, where lawmakers were supposed to vote on the opposition-launched motion seeking Khan’s ouster for allegedly misruling Pakistan.
But the acting speaker, Qasim Shah Suri, unexpectedly rejected the motion at the outset for not being in line with the constitution and swiftly ended the session being telecast live.
“No foreign power has the right to topple an elected government under any conspiracy. So, I rule the no-confidence resolution as against the national integrity and sovereignty, and I… disallow the no-confidence resolution,” Suri said.
The speaker’s ruling referred to Khan’s accusations that the United States had plotted the no-confidence vote to bring down his government to punish him for a recent Russia visit and not supporting the West in condemning President Vladimir Putin’s military aggression against Ukraine.
Washington has repeatedly rejected the allegations, saying there was “no truth” to them. “We respect and support Pakistan’s constitutional process and the rule of law,” a State Department spokesman told VOA while responding to Sunday’s developments.
Soon after the speaker ended the session, Pakistani President Arif Alvi, acting on the prime minister’s advice, dissolved the parliament and called fresh elections in 90 days, citing relevant constitution provisions.
Khan also dissolved his Cabinet. The successive moves have thrown the nuclear-armed South Asian nation into a political crisis.
The 69-year-old former cricket star lost his thin majority in parliament after around two dozen lawmakers from Khan’s ruling party defected and main coalition partners switched sides to join the opposition in the run-up to Sunday’s vote.
Khan came to power in the 2018 general elections as the head of a coalition government with a thin parliamentary majority because his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party fell short of winning a simple majority.
Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif condemned the blocking of the vote against the prime minister as “nothing short of high treason,” demanding the Supreme Court reverse it and all other ensuing actions.
All eyes are on the outcome of the hearing underway in Pakistan’s highest court that will determine the fate of the political crisis. The top court adjourned the hearing until Tuesday.
Pakistan’s military spokesman, Major-General Babar Iftikhar, told VOA on Sunday the military has nothing to do with the political turmoil, dismissing widespread speculation that a military intervention was imminent.
But critics remain skeptical as Pakistan has experienced several military coups, leading to prolonged dictatorial rules, and generals allegedly continue to influence elected governments in policy making matters when not in power.
Analysts blame direct and indirect military interventions for the fragile democracy in Pakistan’s 74-years of existence, where no elected prime minister has been able to complete his or her full-five-year term mainly due to developing differences with the military leadership.
“This is a good omen. It is good to see, at least, that the executive, the parliament, and the judiciary are all claiming their due constitutional space and asserting their writ,” the Express Tribune newspaper wrote in its editorial Monday, referring to the army’s denial of having nothing to do with the unfolding crisis.
“It is a worthy achievement for the people of Pakistan who awe and aspire for representative rule. One hopes this constitutional hiccup too would be a passing reference in our checkered politics, and institutions will triumph over personalized whims and wishes.”
Alvi, the largely ceremonial president, used his constitutional authority Monday to allow Khan to work as an interim chief executive until a caretaker prime minister was appointed to supervise the general election.
A presidential statement said Alvi also wrote to both Khan and Sharif, asking them to put forward names for a caretaker prime minister within three days. But the opposition leader, while addressing a news conference, rejected the offer Monday and demanded the Supreme Court undo Khan’s actions and restore the parliament.
For his part, Khan proposed Monday the name of Pakistan’s former chief justice, Gulzar Ahmed, to be the caretaker prime minister.
Gareth Price, senior research fellow in the Asia Pacific program at London-based Chatham House, questioned Khan’s claims the United States was behind the no-confidence vote against him.
“While U.S. criticism of Khan’s fence-sitting regarding Ukraine and general anti-Americanism is eminently plausible, a call for regime change, as Khan claimed, seems more far-fetched,” Price said in written comments shared with VOA.
“A court ruling on whether or not the move (that blocked the no-trust vote) is legal is imminent. Either way, recent events have done little to resolve political polarization,” he observed. “Like many populists, Khan seems happy to conflate himself with Pakistan, describing his opponents as “dacoits” (bandits) and “traitors.”
Price noted that if the political turmoil eventually leads to fresh elections in Pakistan, whoever ends up leading the nation will have to grapple with serious economic crises, including rising inflation.
Cindy Saine contributed to this report.