(Islamabad) The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, was overthrown on Sunday by a motion of censure voted against him by the National Assembly, at the end of several weeks of political crisis and a last day under very high tension .
Updated yesterday at 5:17 p.m.
No prime minister has ever completed his term in Pakistan since the country’s independence in 1947, but Imran Khan, in power since 2018, is the first to fall on a vote of no confidence.
The motion was “approved” by 174 of the 342 deputies, announced the acting speaker of the chamber, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq.
Shehbaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, who was three times Prime Minister, will in all likelihood succeed him at the head of this Islamic republic of 220 million inhabitants endowed with nuclear weapon. He should be confirmed in this post by the Assembly on Monday.
Imran Khan, 69, famous for having led the national cricket team, king sport in the country, to its only victory in the World Cup in 1992, tried everything until the last minute to stay in power.
All day Saturday, his supporters sought to delay the inevitable, even if they already knew they no longer had a majority, some of the allies in the ruling coalition of Mr. Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Pakistan Justice Movement), having defected several days ago.
The two camps have continued to rail against each other, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, notably spending a good part of the afternoon at the desk to defend the position of the government, in a fine exercise in parliamentary obstruction .
Already adjourned at the end of the morning, the session was again adjourned at the end of the afternoon, the President of the Assembly asking the deputies to return after the “iftar”, the evening meal breaking the fast of Ramadan.
The heated exchanges continued in the evening, while the craziest rumors agitated the capital Islamabad, placed under very strong security surveillance.
In yet another twist, the President of the Assembly and his deputy, unwavering allies of Mr. Khan since the start of the crisis, resigned under pressure, after having done everything possible to prevent the vote from taking place.
Another parliamentarian took their place and the motion could therefore be put to the vote shortly after midnight, not without the PTI deputies deciding to leave the chamber.
“We will put balm on the wounds of the Nation”, immediately promised Shehbaz Sharif, in front of the rest of the ecstatic opposition.
These wounds are gaping as the events of the last few weeks and this last irrational day have exacerbated the divisions of Pakistani society.
Friday evening, Mr. Khan had assured in an address to the Nation to have “accepted the judgment of the Supreme Court” requiring the holding of this vote on the motion of censure.
The Court considered that its allies had acted illegally by refusing to put this motion to a vote last Sunday, on the grounds that it was the result of “foreign interference”, and by deciding to dissolve the Assembly, which opened the way to early elections within three months.
The highest judicial body in the country had ordered that the Assembly be restored and that the vote on the motion of no confidence take place.
In his speech on Friday, Imran Khan repeated his accusations of the last few days, again rehashed on Saturday by Mr. Qureshi, according to which he had been the victim of a conspiracy hatched by the United States.
He accused the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the two parties that together with the military dominated national politics for decades, of treason, for allegedly plotting with the United States to get him out. Washington has denied any involvement.
According to him, the United States, already offended by his repeated criticism of American policy in Iraq or Afghanistan, were embittered by his visit to Moscow on the very day of the outbreak of war in Ukraine.
Whatever the name of Imran Khan’s successor, a heavy task awaits him. The challenges are many, starting with a sluggish economy and the multiplication of attacks carried out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Pakistani Taliban.
And his government may only have a short lifespan. The opposition had in the past said that it was in favor of early elections, but only after having obtained the departure of Mr. Khan. These elections must imperatively be called by October 2023, but once in power she will be able to set the electoral calendar that suits her best.
The army, key to political power in this country which has spent more than three decades under military rule, and which was accused of supporting Mr Khan in 2018, has not publicly intervened in recent days.