Over the past month, Pakistan has been dwelling into a political crisis. Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, has been ousted through a vote of no confidence, which has been cheered by his opponents claiming that the nation has gone into an economic crisis amid rising inflation. I
mran Khan, on the other hand has claimed the vote of no confidence has been illegally conducted and alleged it is part of a foreign conspiracy to oust him for creating an independent foreign policy. Currently, Khan and his supporters are out on the streets calling for new elections amidst the crisis, asserting the people should decide who is best fit to resolve the nation’s issues. Opposition parties to Imran Khan, on the other hand, have rejected calls for new elections, arguing they should be held as scheduled in 2023 and that electoral reforms should first take place before the administration of new elections. Khan has promised to continue protesting and attracting large crowds at his rallies until new elections aren’t held.
Political Crisis in Pakistan-March 2022
On March 8, 2022, the opposition to Khan’s ruling party, the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lit. Pakistan Movement for Justice), submitted a vote of no confidence against him, alleging that Pakistan has entered into economic instability amid rising inflation and held him responsible for the issues taking place in the country. At the time, the PTI had 155 members in the National Assembly, the lower house legislature of Pakistan, and with additional parties in coalition with the PTI, it brought them up to 179 seats. The united opposition, PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement), had only 162 seats. The ruling government consisted of PTI, Pakistan Muslim League (Q) (aka PML(Q)), GDA (Grand Democratic Alliance), BAP (Balochistan Awami Party), JWP (Jamoohri Watan Party), MQM (Muttahida Quami Movement), and Awami Muslim League (AML). The PDM consists of Pakistan Muslim League (N) (aka PML(N), Pakistan People’s Party, ANP (Awami National Party), JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl).
After the submission of the vote of no confidence, the ruling government, PTI, was in danger of losing the vote despite having a majority due to defecting members within its own party that intended on voting against the Prime Minister Khan. This defecting group consisted of between 24 and 33 members of the PTI. According to Article 63A of the Pakistani Constitution, a defection from a political party during the time of an election of a Prime Minister, vote of no confidence, or voting on the budget is illegal and therefore would result in the disqualification (the process of the Supreme Court of Pakistan removing a parliamentarian from political office) occurring.
Another threat the government faced by the PDM was their meetings with coalition partners of the ruling PTI in order to convince them to switch sides in their favor of ousting Khan. As a result, the JWP became the first party to announce their departure from the coalition government and joined hands with the opposition. The BAP has five seats in the National Assembly, out of which four members joined in alliance with the PDM. PTI held meetings with its coalition partner PMLQ, headed by the Hussain dynastic family hailing from Gujrat. In a bid to appeal for their support, PTI promised them a position for Chief Minister of Punjab, which is the most populous province and a battleground province in Pakistani politics. As of March, the PTI was the ruling party of Punjab with its coalition support coming from the PMLQ. Currently, Chaudhary Pervez Elahi serves as the speaker of the Punjab Assembly and upon being promised Chief Ministership, the PMLQ leadership announced its support for Khan; former Chief Minister Usman Buzdar resigned from his post in support of Imran Khan’s decision.
PMLQ has five seats in the national assembly and despite their leadership’s support, two of its members broke its alliance with the PTI, citing their differences with their decision of giving the post of Chief Ministership to Chaudhary Pervez Elahi. These events reduced the government’s numbers from 179 to 173. The swing coalition party MQM was the deciding factor whether they would switch to the PDM or remain with PTI, and under the party leadership of Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, they broke their alliance with the PTI, giving the opposition the majority of the votes to oust the Prime Minister through the vote of no confidence.
A day before the vote of no confidence, Prime Minister Khan held a rally in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, to build support among his voter base. The rally generated an abundance of supporters. While addressing the rally, Imran Khan made an allegation of foreign conspiracy, claiming the US had sent a letter through a diplomatic cable to the Pakistani ambassador stating there would be consequences for Pakistan if it did not oust him and would forgive the nation if they did oust him. This allegation turned the tables and became a matter of foreign conspiracy rather than a political crisis.
Foreign Conspiracy and Constitutional Crisis in Pakistan-April 2022
Imran Khan alleged the United States was behind the vote of no confidence in an attempt to oust him because of his independent foreign policy. The United States and Pakistan have been at odds since the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan; Khan is famously to have replied “absolutely not” to the United States’s request of military bases in Pakistan to be used to attack terrorists in Afghanistan. Moreover, a day after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Prime Minister paid a two-day visit to Russia and had imported wheat from the country as part of their deal. Pakistan under Imran Khan has refused to condemn Russia and said he has the intention of having friendly relations with every country and would not take sides.
In response to a joint letter issued by the European Union urging Khan to condemn Russia, he has responded by saying, “What do you think of us? Are we your slaves … that whatever you say, we will do?” The United States has denied these allegations, stating there is no truth to them. Additionally, the PDM has claimed the letter was fake and demanded Khan reveal the letter.
No Confidence Vote
While the vote of no confidence was supposed to be held on March 28, it was delayed until April 3, 2022. When the session began, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary gave a speech making the case the vote of no confidence was illegitimate due to foreign interference, and on these basis the Deputy Speaker, Qasim Suri, dismissed the vote of no confidence invoking Article 5 of the Pakistani Constitution. Following this event, the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, dissolved the National Assembly and announced an early election with the advice of the Prime Minister Imran Khan as per Article 224(A) of the Pakistani Constitution, leading to a constitutional crisis.
The PDM moved the case to the Supreme Court to decide on the validity of the dismissal of no confidence. A five-member bench of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in a verdict in favor of the opposition parties, saying the vote of no confidence shall be held on April 9, and in order to enforce the vote, the Courts remained open until midnight to assure the proceeding of the vote. Throughout the day the National Assembly kept delaying the vote of no confidence, and the vote was finally held, resulting in the ousting of Prime Minister Imran Khan from office. A simple majority of 172 votes are needed to oust a Prime Minister through a vote of no confidence; 174 members voted in favor.
The next day, leader of the opposition and President of the PMLN, Shahbaz Sharif, won the election for Prime Minister of Pakistan, which was boycotted by the PTI (excluding the members who had defected). Khan accepted the court’s decision though he disagreed and has termed the current government as an “imported” government. Imran Khan has urged his supporters and all Pakistanis to take to the streets to protest this government and has called for free and fair elections. The current government has denied Khan’s request, saying electoral reform must first take place. In return, Khan has promised to continue campaigning and protesting on the streets until new elections aren’t held. So far large rallies have been held in major cities across Pakistan. Protests have also been held within the Pakistani diasporic community, with large protests being held in Denmark, Norway, London, Chicago, Connecticut, Seattle, Australia, New York, etc. The top trending hashtag on Twitter, which as of now has generated more than 8 million tweets, is “#امپورٹڈ_حکومت_نامنظور” (lit #Imported_Government_Rejected). Khan has announced his intention to hold a long March to Islamabad, though it’s not clear when. This would be his second time holding a March to Islamabad against the government. The last time he did this was in 2014 for six months when in the opposition.
PTI has made accusations against the current government for silencing them and for targeting their members. Notably, journalists Imran Riaz Khan and Maleeha Hashmey, both of whom are vocal supporters of Imran Khan, were recently fired by the Samaa News Organization for their refusal to speak out against Khan. Former focal person to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Dr. Arslan Khalid, has stated his house was raided overnight and all digital equipment was confiscated. Waqas Amjad, a supporter of the PTI and a social media influencer has also made the same complaint of police raiding his home just after the vote of no confidence successfully went through. Dr. Shahbaz Gill of the PTI has accused the PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) of attempting to censor their social movement through social media.
Pakistan’s National Security Committee has rejected Khan’s claims, saying there is no evidence for a foreign conspiracy after reviewing the alleged message.