This has been the most challenging week for Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan since he took office in August 2018.
The opposition parties in the country have united against Khan, accusing him of political witch-hunt and mismanagement, with over 100 lawmakers from the united opposition parties successfully tabling a motion to oust him. Subsequently, two dozen lawmakers from his own party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have now rebelled against him.
To make matters worse, Pakistan Army - often considered to be a decisive force in Pakistani politics - is reportedly withdrawing its support to Khan.
The decisive moment for Khan and his fragile administration will arrive by the end of this week, as the no-confidence vote takes place in the parliament on Friday, March 25.
The Wrath Of United Opposition
Last year, on March 6, Pakistan had already seen a no-confidence vote take place to decide on the future of Imran Khan's coalition government.
It turned out in favour of Khan, who won 178 votes in the 342-member lower house of Pakistan's parliament, also called the National Assembly.
A year later, on March 8, 2022, there was a renewed rally by the opposition parties to oust the cricketer-turned-politician from the top position of the government, as a fresh no-confidence motion was filed.
The woes of the united opposition, called Pakistan Democratic Movement, stem from the fact that several top level opposition leaders are facing serious corruption charges against them. Three-time PM Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, and former President Asif Zardari, have also found themselves behind bars on occasions, for corruption charges.
Opposition parties have accused Khan's administration of political witch-hunt, while the latter has justified its moves as fulfilling one of its key election promises of clampdown on corruption.
The Khan administration has also been accused of mismanagement - especially on economy and foreign policy.
While the united opposition had previously failed to oust Khan, the upcoming no-confidence motion is starting to look in their favour.
Defections And Disqualification
In the 2018 general elections, Khan's party PTI won 149 seats out of 342 in the National Assembly, becoming the single largest party, but fell short of securing the 172 seats required to form a government. Finally, with the help of other parties and independent candidates, PTI formed a government with Khan at the helm.
Few months later, by-elections were held in twelve constituencies, winning PTI six more seats. With 155 seats, PTI still heavily depended on its allies to have a majority in the lower house.
The coalition signified that the government was already fragile, susceptible to fall if any of the allies broke away.
However, the biggest blow to Khan came from inside his party last week, when two dozen PTI lawmakers rebelled against Khan. MNA Najeeb Haroon, a founding member of PTI, urged Khan to resign from the PM post, while speaking to Geo News.
With these defections, Khan is unlikely to get the 172 votes required in the National Assembly to keep his government afloat.
On Monday, the Khan government filed a presidential reference at the Supreme Court, seeking an interpretation of Article 63-A of the Pakistan Constitution, which deals with consequences of defection. While one of the interpretations suggest that defection will lead to de-seating from the parliament, without any restrictions on seeking reelection, another interpretation suggests that the defecting member should be disqualified for life.
Khan and a few of his cabinet ministers have accused the opposition of engaging in horse-trading, and are looking to punish the defectors through the process of lifelong disqualification.
Withdrawal Of Support From 'Establishment'
While Pakistan does have a democratic system, the true authority is often perceived to rest in the hands of 'The Establishment'.
It is a term used to describe a deep state alliance between the Pakistan Armed Forces and the Pakistani intelligence community (which included Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence).
Following partition from India in 1947, Pakistan has seen four successful military coups, and has been under direct rule of the military-led Establishment for nearly half of its existence (1958–1971, 1977–1988, 1999–2008).
While under non-military rule, the Establishment has been seen as asserting covert dominance over the political leadership, which included that of Khan's government.
In 2018, after forming his government, Khan had stated that his administration enjoyed unwavering support of the armed forces.
While Khan had indeed enjoyed strong support from the establishment, cracks have appeared between the armed forces and the civilian government.
According the Pakistani media, the opposition now has the 'blessings of the establishment' to topple the Khan administration in the upcoming no-confidence vote.
Earlier this month, Khan also publicly rebuffed Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa's suggestion to not call Maulana Fazlur Rehman (president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, and also the leader of the united Pakistan Democratic Movement of opposition parties) with the derogatory word 'diesel'.
Worsening the ties with the military establishment, Khan recently spoke at a public gathering and stated, "The Indian Army is not corrupt, and they never interfere in civilian government."
No-Confidence: How Does It Work?
Since the parliament is not in session, a requisition is required to be submitted under Article 54-3 to summon the parliament - something that has already been done by the opposition following the tabling of no-confidence motion.
The Pakistan's National Assembly has 342 seats - one for each constituency. To succeed in a no-confidence motion, one has to get the support of a simple majority - from at least 172 members.
The opposition claims to have the numbers need to oust Khan - PDM chief Fazl stated that the united opposition was eyeing 180 votes in its favour.
Pakistan's Constitution states that the passing of a no-trust resolution against the premier by a majority of National Assembly members will immediately lead to the prime minister ceasing to hold office. The prime minister's cabinet will also be subsequently dissolved.
Following this, the National Assembly will immediately vote to elect a new leader, until which, the country will be run by the president.
What Happens If Khan's Government Falls?
No prime minister in Pakistan has completed a full five-year term, and it seems history is about to repeat itself in the event of Khan's ouster.
Earlier this year, Khan had warned the opposition parties that he will be more dangerous if he is forced to step-down. "If I take to the streets, then you (opposition parties) won't find any place to hide," he said.
The upcoming week shall see rallies from both sides - one called by Khan, another called by Fazl - with each side looking to attempt a show of strength and popular support.
If he is indeed ousted, it remains to be seen whether Khan can turn the public opinion in his favour, as the seats of the defecting PTI lawmakers go for reelection.
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