Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted as the country’s leader early Sunday following a parliamentary vote of no confidence as opponents blamed him for a slumping economy and failure to meet campaign promises.
Opposition parties were able to secure 174 votes in the country’s 342-member lower house of Parliament – two more than required — to oust the charismatic cricket star-turned-conservative-Islamist-politician after many former Khan supporters decided to desert him.
Opposition spanning the political spectrum from the left to the radically religious will form the new government, with the head of the Pakistani Muslim League expected to take power.
Shahbaz Sharif, brother of jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was expected to designated interim prime minister by Parliament on Monday. The opposition group has said it wants to hold elections in the next few months.
The 1 a.m. vote followed a desperate, last-minute attempt by Khan to remain in power. He earlier produced a document that he claims proves United States officials conspired to toss him out of his post by being in cahoots with his legislative opponents. Khan’s foreign policy choices have routinely seemed to favor Russia and China over the US.
The US State Department denied meddling in Pakistan’s politics, but false allegations of American collusion were likely to rouse with many citizens who have harbored a mistrust of the US since the aftermath of 9/11, when Washington accused Islamabad of being weak on terrorism, even as thousands of Pakistanis were killed by Islamic millitants.
“Khan’s conspiracy allegations will resonate in a country where there’s a tendency to ascribe the worst possible motives to US policy, especially because there is a past history of US meddling in Pakistani politics,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center.
In an impassioned speech Friday, Khan claimed his opponents plotted with the US in response to his foreign policy decisions. He said the US opposed his Feb. 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin hours after it invaded Ukraine.
The ousted populist prime minister urged his supporters to take to the streets Sunday to protest his allegations of US collusion.
“You have to come out to protect your own future. It is you who have to protect your democracy, your sovereignty and your independence. … This is your duty,” he said. “I will not accept an imposed government.”
Khan and his backers had delayed the vote ordered by a court to be held on Saturday and blocked the roll call for 14 hours until it was held close to midnight in Pakistan.
Khan, who did not show up to the proceeding, was accused by adversaries of being unsportsmanlike, according to the Wall Street Journal. Only a few members of Khan’s ruling party were present.
“This man fears losing the match, so he has picked up the wickets and run off from the field,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party said before the vote took place, using a cricket metaphor to make his point.
However, Fawad Hussain, Khan’s minister for information, called it a “sad day for Pakistan,” reported The Guardian.
“The return of looters, and a good man sent home,” said Hussain.
Khan had come under fire for months over failing to control Pakistan’s rising inflation and foreign debt and other economic problems. Meanwhile, many of his proposed reforms and civic projects failed.
Opposition lawmakers have said their move to replace Khan became possible once Pakistan’s military withdrew its support for him. Although the military denies getting involved in politics, it’s widely believed it helped bring him to power in 2018. Pakistan had been under direct military rule for the majority of its 75 year history.
The nuclear power with an arsenal of 165 warheads has traditionally been a US ally, but the relationship has been prickly. The US suspended security assistance to Khan’s government in 2018 because of his reluctance to act against terrorist groups.
Khan’s no-confidence vote was expected to empower the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam, or Assembly of Clerics, a radical religious party factions with Taliban ties.
With Post wires