Imran Khan says he will not resign before vote to oust him on Sunday

Pakistani prime minister again says a 'western country' behind plot to remove him from power

Pakistan’s prime minister, besieged by the opposition and abandoned by coalition partners, is facing the greatest threat to his rule since he was elected in 2018. AP

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a televised address to the nation on Thursday that he would not resign before a vote to oust him is held on Sunday.

Mr Khan also said a “western country” is backing his removal because he visited Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin last month.

No Pakistani prime minister has ever seen out a full term and Mr Khan is facing the biggest challenge to his rule since being elected in 2018. His opponents accuse him of economic mismanagement and foreign policy bungling.

The government is also battling to contain a rise in militancy by the Pakistani Taliban, which on Wednesday announced an offensive against security forces during Ramadan, which is due to begin with the sighting of the next new moon.

Debate on the no-confidence motion was due to start on Thursday, but the deputy speaker suspended proceedings when members of Parliament declined to first address other items on the agenda.

“I and the whole nation demand an immediate voting on the motion of no confidence,” said Marriyum Aurangzeb, a senior opposition leader, to chants of “vote".

“It seems that no one is interested in the question-answer session, therefore the session is suspended,” said deputy speaker Qasim Khan Suri, from Mr Khan's ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Shehbaz Sharif, tipped to become the next prime minister if Mr Khan is ousted, condemned the suspension.

“The deputy speaker has once again dishonoured the parliamentary norms by not allowing the agenda item for a debate,” he told reporters outside the Parliament building.

Shehbaz Sharif and Fazal-ur Rehman, president of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), seen during a joint press conference in Islamabad on Wednesday. Reuters

The PTI effectively lost its majority in the 342-member National Assembly on Wednesday when a coalition partner said its seven members would vote with an opposition alliance.

More than a dozen PTI politicians have also indicated they will cross the floor, although party leaders are trying to get the courts to prevent them from voting.

In the past, parties have resorted to physically preventing MPs from voting against key legislation by blocking access to the National Assembly, leading to cat-and-mouse chases and even accusations of kidnapping.

The opposition is headed by the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) — two usually feuding dynastic groups that dominated national politics for decades until *Mr Khan forged a coalition against them.

He was elected after promising to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism, but has struggled to maintain support with inflation skyrocketing, a feeble rupee and crippling debt.

In recent days, Mr Khan has turned to conspiracy theories to explain the challenge to his rule and has gone on national television to claim the opposition is in cahoots with a foreign government — a reference to the US — to unseat him.

Mr Khan’s often-stated opposition to Washington’s so-called war in terror as well as the US-led invasion of Afghanistan has brought him popularity at home.

He has tried to reach out to Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, fostered close ties to China and Russia and abstained from the UN Security Council vote condemning Russian for invading Ukraine.

Madiha Afzal, a fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, blamed Mr Khan’s political woes on his confrontational style and a cooling of relations between him and the powerful military, widely reported to have assisted Mr Khan’s election victory in 2018.

Pakistan’s army has been the country’s de facto ruler more than half of its 75-year history — even when governments are democratically elected, the military maintains considerable control from behind the scenes, despite their claims of neutrality.

In a Brookings Institution podcast, Ms Afzal said it’s rare for a Pakistani political leader to finish his term.

“This is part of a much larger, longer cycle that reflects on Pakistan’s built-in political instability,” she said.

“Essentially, opposition parties don’t wait for elections to occur, for the previous party to be voted out, or for the prime ministers to be ousted from power.

“While the military says that it is neutral in this situation, in this political crisis, what many read that as saying is that the military has basically withdrawn its support from Khan.”

Updated: March 31, 2022, 5:08 PM
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