Imran Khan’s future as prime minister of Pakistan is looking increasingly in doubt after a key coalition partner switched allegiance ahead of a parliamentary no-confidence vote this weekend.
The former cricket star was expected to address the nation in the evening, as weeks of political turmoil come to a head – including allegations of foreign interference.
No prime minister in the country’s history has been seen out a full term, and Khan is facing the biggest challenge to his rule since being elected in 2018, with opponents accusing him of economic mismanagement and foreign policy bungling.
Debate on the no-confidence motion is due to start on Thursday, leaving Khan scrambling to keep his own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) members on side – as well as a slew of minority parties.
The PTI and coalition partners have 176 seats in the 342-member assembly, but on Wednesday the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-P) said its seven lawmakers would vote with the opposition, which has a combined 163 seats.
More than a dozen PTI lawmakers have also indicated they will cross the floor, although party leaders are trying to get the courts to prevent them from voting on Sunday.
In the past, Pakistan parties have also resorted to physically preventing lawmakers from voting against key legislation by blocking access to the national assembly, leading to cat-and-mouse chases and even accusations of kidnapping.
The main opposition parties, the Pakistan People Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), dominated national politics for decades until Khan forged a coalition against the usually feuding groups.
He was elected after promising to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism, but has struggled to maintain support with soaring inflation, a feeble rupee and crippling debt.
Some analysts say Khan has also lost the crucial support of the military – claims both sides deny – and Pakistan’s army is key to political power. There have been four military coups, and at least as many unsuccessful ones, since independence in 1947, and the country has spent more than three decades under army rule.
If Khan loses the vote, a new government could be headed by PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has not returned since being released from jail to get medical treatment abroad.
Also likely to be given a senior role will be the PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and ex-president Asif Zardari.
One card up Khan’s sleeve could be to call an early election; the next one must be held before October 2023.
“The best option in this situation would have been fresh elections to enable the new government to handle economic, political and external problems faced by the country,” said political analyst Talat Masood, a retired general.
“The country is heading towards something unpredictable… where there is going to be a lot of chaos and problems.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism