By KATHY GANNON and MUNIR AHMED – Associated Press
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s political opposition ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan in a no-confidence vote in parliament early Sunday after several political allies and a key party in his ruling coalition deserted him.
The opposition, which spans the political spectrum from leftists to religious radicals, will form a new government. The leader of one of the biggest parties, a brother of disgraced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is expected to take over as prime minister if confirmed in a vote on Monday.
Anticipating his loss, Khan, who has accused the opposition of colluding with the United States to overthrow him, called on his supporters to hold nationwide rallies on Sunday. Khan’s options are limited, however. If he sees a strong turnout in his support, he may try to maintain the momentum of street protests as a way to pressure parliament into holding a snap election.
Earlier, Khan had tried to avoid the vote by dissolving parliament and calling a snap election, but a Supreme Court ruling ordered the vote to continue.
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The vote comes as relations between Khan and the powerful Pakistani military cool, which many political opponents say helped him seize power in the 2018 general election. The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of his 75 years and wields considerable power over civil governments.
Seeking Khan’s ouster, the opposition had accused him of economic mismanagement as inflation soars and the value of the Pakistani rupee plummets. The vote caps months of political turmoil and a constitutional crisis that forced the Supreme Court to intervene.
In an impassioned speech on Friday, Khan doubled down on his accusations that his opponents colluded with the United States to unseat him over his foreign policy choices, which often appeared to favor China and Russia and challenge the United States.
Khan said Washington objected to his Feb. 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. The meeting took place hours after Russian tanks arrived in Ukraine, sparking a devastating war in the heart of Europe.
Ahead of the vote, a member of Khan’s cabinet referred to an earlier claim by Khan that Pakistani diplomats in Washington had been told by a senior US official that relations would improve if Khan were ousted.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari told parliament that the US official’s alleged memo said “all would be forgiven” if Khan was out of power. She went on to ask, “Forgived for what? What is our sin?”
The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s domestic politics. On Friday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters there was “absolutely no truth to these allegations.”
Still, Khan urged his supporters to take to the streets, especially young people who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricketer star turned conservative Islamist politician came to power in 2018. He said that they should protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and oppose US claims. dictates.
“You have to come out to protect your own future. It is you who must protect your democracy, your sovereignty and your independence. … It is your duty,” he said. “I will not accept an imposed government.”
Khan’s allegations of US involvement are likely to resonate with many Pakistanis, said Michael Kugelman, deputy Asia program director at the Washington-based Wilson Center.
“Khan’s conspiracy allegations will resonate in a country where there is a tendency to attribute the worst possible motives to American politics, particularly because there is a history of American interference in Pakistani politics,” Kugelman said. .
Khan’s allegations of US involvement in attempts to overthrow him also tap into a deep-rooted distrust among many Pakistanis of US intentions, particularly after 9/11.
Washington has often chastised Pakistan for doing too little to fight Islamic militants, even as thousands of Pakistanis have died at their hands and the military has lost more than 5,000 soldiers. Pakistan has been accused of aiding Afghan Taliban insurgents while being asked to bring them to the peace table.
Khan’s loss of no confidence brings unlikely partners to power.
Among them is a radically religious party that runs dozens of religious schools. The Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam, or Assembly of Clerics, teaches a deeply conservative form of Islam in its schools. Many Taliban from Afghanistan and violent Taliban of Pakistani descent have graduated from JUI schools.
The largest of the opposition parties – the Pakistan People’s Party, led by the son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League – have been marred by allegations of widespread corruption.
Pakistan Muslim League leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been found guilty of corruption after being named in the so-called Panama Papers. This is a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest are hiding their money and implicating a global law firm based in Panama. Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan from holding office. The new prime minister is expected to be Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, after a vote for the new prime minister in parliament on Monday.
“It would be the first time in Pakistan’s history that a no-confidence vote succeeded in ousting a prime minister – completing a constitutional process that was far from guaranteed after Khan’s attempts to derail the vote. “, said Pakistan expert Elizabeth Threlkeld. at the US-based Stimson Center. “That in itself is important and could give Pakistan something to build on going forward.”
Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Kathygannon
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