Pakistan’s top court has begun hearing arguments over the legitimacy of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to call a general election after his party blocked a no-confidence vote and dissolved parliament to block opposition attempts to oust him.
The former cricket star lost his majority in parliament last week as his opponents formed their support ahead of Sunday’s no-confidence vote.
But the deputy speaker of parliament, a member of Khan’s party, threw out the no-confidence motion that Khan had hoped to lose, declaring it part of a foreign conspiracy and unconstitutional.
The move plunges the country, which the military has ruled almost half of its history, into a full-blown constitutional crisis.
Whatever the court’s decision, Pakistan appears to be heading for new elections in 2023, before the current term of parliament and the term of the prime minister expires.
If Khan wins, voting will take place within 90 days. Opposition parties have stated they will not run in the by-elections.
Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif called the postponement “nothing less than rebellion.”
“The nation is shocked,” the Dawn editorial said. “Although political pundits and the media confidently predicted the defeat of Mr Imran Khan in the no-confidence vote, he seemed restless. No one could have guessed that his last conspiracy would destroy the democratic order. “
Khan has dissolved the cabinet and wants a general election within 90 days, although that decision is officially up to the president and the election commission, and the outcome of a court hearing.
In a statement, President Arif Alvi said that Khan would be the caretaker Prime Minister until a caretaker Prime Minister is appointed under which a general election will be held.
Alvi wrote a letter to both Khan and Sharif asking them to nominate a caretaker Prime Minister within three days, the president’s office said in a statement.
But whether the election will take place depends on the outcome of the legal process. The Supreme Court may order that Parliament be reconstituted, new elections be called, or that Khan be barred from running again if he is found to have acted unconstitutionally.
The court may also decide that it cannot interfere in parliamentary matters.
Khan has said he did not act unconstitutionally, calling the move to oust him a US-backed plot – a claim Washington denies.
Political analysts say the military favored Khan’s conservative, nationalist agenda when it won the 2018 election, but later turned against him due to various quarrels.
The military denies any involvement in civilian politics, but the generals are less likely to side with them if they feel the political turmoil is hurting the country or their core interests are being threatened.