Imran Khan repeats call for early elections as PM Sharif faces economic crisis

Pakistan's ousted leader continues to hold large political rallies across the country

Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence voted in April. AP
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Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is refusing to accept defeat, after a no-confidence vote last month, repeating claims on Tuesday that his government was ousted in a foreign-backed plot, and calling for early elections.

Mr Khan's four-year term in office ended on April 10, when he lost a no-confidence vote in parliament. Shehbaz Sharif, a former chief minister of Punjab who briefly spent time in exile abroad after a coup in 1999, was subsequently elected as prime minister.

In the lead up to the no-confidence vote, Mr Khan was quick to blame a foreign conspiracy to unseat him, an allegation he has repeated during rallies and media appearances since Mr Sharif’s appointment.

He previously called for early elections on April 21, saying this was his one demand after being removed.

“A sitting prime minister has been ousted through a conspiracy, therefore, all state institutions should look into the matter as it has turned out to be a huge setback for the country," he said on Pakistani TV channel Geo News.

Last week, Mr Sharif appeared to mount a political counterattack as Mr Khan faced charges of blasphemy, along with 150 other suspects.

Supporters of the former prime minister were accused of shouting insults at Mr Sharif outside a mosque during a recent official visit to Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom said several of the accused had been arrested, while Pakistan's Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said there will be an investigation and "no one will be spared," if implicated.

The continuing political row, combined with significant remaining public support for Mr Khan, could threaten a stable transition.

The crisis comes amid a worsening economic downturn, with Mr Sharif facing tough negotiations for IMF support to the tune of $6 billion and looking to foreign allies for financial aid.

Mr Sharif's prospects for successful economic reform received a minor boost on Wednesday with the appointment of a new central bank governor.

Murtaza Syed, an "eminently qualified economist with rich IMF experience", takes over at the end of the three-year term of incumbent Reza Baqir, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said on Twitter.

It was not immediately clear if Mr Syed would be a long-term replacement or an interim appointment by the government.

The move comes as Pakistan faces a number of economic challenges, including ballooning deficits and depleted foreign exchange reserves.

Pakistan's new government has sought an increase in the size and duration of the IMF programme, which has been slow moving forward.

Increased autonomy for the central bank was among reforms agreed upon between the lender and Pakistan as part of the programme that began in 2019.

Updated: May 05, 2022, 7:35 AM
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