Pakistan's Imran Khan seeks court order against defectors before confidence vote

Several assembly members withdrew their support for the prime minister on Thursday, raising doubts over whether he can cling to power

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan has been accused by the opposition of mismanaging the country, economy and foreign policy. Reuters

The Pakistani government will petition the Supreme Court to seek a ruling on whether defectors from Prime Minister Imran Khan's party could lose their seats ahead of a no-confidence vote against their leader, the interior minister said on Friday.

The threat of political turmoil in the nuclear-armed nation is growing as the opposition seeks to oust Mr Khan in a vote that could come as soon as this month.

Several National Assembly members from Mr Khan's ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party withdrew their support for him on Thursday, adding to uncertainty over whether the former cricket star can cling to power.

This followed a warning by a key ally that the premier could lose his coalition partners.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad told a news conference it had been decided to seek the Supreme Court's ruling over whether the defectors are eligible to cast a vote after switching sides.

Mr Ahmad said the decision was taken in a meeting chaired by Mr Khan. He did not say when the petition would be filed.

“I want to ask all of you to get back … We wouldn't do anything against you,” he said in an appeal to the dissidents.

The dissidents are being issued a show-cause notice, Cabinet Minister Asad Umar said.

Several ruling party workers led by two assembly members tried to storm a building in the capital Islamabad where the dissidents have been housed by opposition parties, breaking open the main gate, Mr Ahmad said.

The two ruling party assembly members and several workers were arrested by the police, he said. “It is serious. We can't allow this,” he said.

Under Pakistan's floor-crossing law, assembly members who defect could lose their seats if they then choose to vote against their party, but what Mr Khan's government is trying to see is whether that is also applicable before they cast votes.

“You know only murder isn't a crime, an attempted murder is also a crime,” the minister said.

The opposition blames Mr Khan for mismanaging the country, economy and foreign policy. No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed his term in office.

Without the coalition partners and the dissidents, Mr Khan's party, which has 155 seats in the lower house, would fall short of the 172 needed to retain power. The joint opposition has a strength of nearly 163 in the lower house.

The opposition and political analysts say Mr Khan has fallen out with Pakistan's powerful military, whose support they see as critical for any political party to attain power in the way the former cricketer upstart party did four years ago.

Updated: March 19, 2022, 10:31 AM