Islamabad (AFP), April 8 – Pakistani lawmakers clashed in the National Assembly on Saturday with the opposition accusing ruling party members of wasting time ahead of a no-confidence vote that is likely to see Prime Minister Imran Khan thrown out of office.
The session adjourned for the second time late Saturday afternoon as lawmakers were told to return in the evening after breaking their Ramadan fast.
Khan, who was not present, lost his majority in the 342-seat assembly due to defections from coalition partners and members of his own party, and the opposition only needs 172 votes to dismiss him.
There is no vote for a new prime minister on the agenda, but that could change and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) leader Shehbaz Sharif is the elected candidate.
Whoever takes over will still have to deal with the problems that plagued Khan – runaway inflation, a weak rupee and crippling debt.
Militancy is also on the rise, with the Pakistani Taliban emboldened by the return to power last year of the radical Islamist group in neighboring Afghanistan.
Tempers rose when Shehbaz insisted a vote be held immediately – as ordered by the Supreme Court on Thursday – but Khan loyalists demanded a discussion first over their leader’s claims that there had been foreign interference in the process.
“You will conduct the proceedings of the house under the order of the Supreme Court,” said a furious Shehbaz, waving his finger.
“Parliament will write a new history. Today, parliament is going to defeat a… prime minister.
– Litany of grievances –
“We intend to deal with it in accordance with the law and the constitution,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi replied, adding, “It is my duty to defend the motion.”
Qureshi returned after an adjournment with a litany of grievances and accused the opposition of leading the country down a dangerous path.
“History will expose all those who laid the groundwork for this decision to overthrow the government,” he said, to chants of “vote, vote” from the opposition.
Khan, 69, said on Friday night he had accepted a Supreme Court ruling ordering the vote of no confidence, but insisted he was the victim of a ‘regime change’ plot involving the United States.
The former international cricket star said he would not cooperate with any new administration and called on his supporters to take to the streets.
A heavy security blanket was thrown over the capital on Saturday, with thousands of police on the streets and a ring of steel containers blocking access to the government enclave.
The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Khan acted unlawfully by dissolving parliament and calling new elections after the deputy speaker of the National Assembly – a loyalist – refused to allow an earlier no-confidence vote due to “foreign interference”.
Khan said the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – two normally feuding dynastic groups that joined forces to oust him – conspired with Washington to stage the vote of no confidence because of its opposition to American foreign policy, especially in Muslim matters. nations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also accused the opposition of buying support for the Assembly with “open haggling…selling legislators like goats and sheep.”
The duration of the next government is also a matter of speculation.
The opposition have previously said they want a snap election – due to be called by October next year – but taking power gives them the chance to set their own agenda and end a series of investigations which they said were launched by Khan vindictively against them.
Local media quoted an election commission official as saying they would need at least seven months to prepare for a nationwide vote.
Publicly, the military appears to be staying away from the current fray, but there have been four coups since independence in 1947 and the country has spent more than three decades under military rule.