Imran Khan from Pakistan is fighting for power. Here’s what’s next

Khan called the election in a dramatic bid to hold on to power after the deputy speaker of parliament blocked last Sunday’s vote of no confidence in him that looked almost certain to succeed.

This move, and Khan’s subsequent dissolution of parliament, infuriated the opposition, who for months demanded his removal over allegations of mismanagement and mismanagement.

In response, the opposition accused Khan of treason and asked the country’s highest court to rule on whether the prime minister had violated the constitution. The legal battle is the latest escalation in a crisis that has smoldered for weeks, with Khan already losing the support of key political allies and the country’s powerful military.

Khan’s main hope now seems to be that his enduring popularity with the electorate, fueled by his brilliant cricket career, his unique brand of Islamic populism and his claims of foreign interference in Pakistani affairs, can keep him at the helm.

But the unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, which resumes on Tuesday, will leave Khan’s leadership in the balance.

Why is Khan in trouble?

Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, is known for being difficult to govern. It has struggled with political instability since its formation in 1947, with numerous regime changes and military coups. No prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.

Khan’s troubles date back to 2018, when he came to power in an election mired in allegations of voter fraud and foul play.

More recently it has been dogged by accusations of mismanagement. The cost of basic necessities such as food and fuel is skyrocketing, inflation is running into double digits, and government foreign exchange reserves are rapidly depleting.

Some members of Khan’s coalition government left him for allegedly not working with them, and he alienated the long-time politically dominant military that once supported him.

On March 8, the opposition filed for a vote of no confidence in parliament, calling on Khan to step down. The prime minister’s subsequent actions only inflamed his critics, with opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif calling them “nothing less than high treason.”

Why did the military abandon Khan?

Pakistan’s military, which has long influenced foreign policy, appears to have been outraged by Khan’s series of diplomatic moves that have alienated the country from the United States and brought it closer to China and Russia.

For most of his term, Khan delivered anti-American rhetoric, blaming the US for the situation in Afghanistan. In a sign of how tainted relations have become, US President Joe Biden and Khan have not spoken since Biden took office last year.

Pakistan's Imran Khan says world should give Taliban 'time' on human rights, but fears unaided 'chaos'
In a move that further alienated Pakistan from the US, Khan recently refused to denounce Russian invasion of Ukraineeven meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on the day Russia started the war.

The military appears to have clashed with Khan over these issues. In a speech on April 2, Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa said the country has “a long history of excellent relations with the United States.” He added that maintaining relations with Washington was “vital” to Pakistan’s national interests.

“Russian aggression against Ukraine is very regrettable. This is a huge tragedy,” Bajwa said. “Pakistan wants an immediate cessation of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine and is doing everything possible to resolve the issue.”

Despite this, the military says it has “absolutely nothing” to do with the current crisis, which it has described as a “purely political matter.”

How did Khan react?

Throughout the crisis, Khan rejected criticism of his leadership.

Instead – and without giving evidence – he has repeatedly claimed that the actions against him are an attempt at regime change, supported by Washington and some members of the opposition.

Both the US State Department and the Pakistani opposition denied Khan’s allegations.

But when Khan called for the dissolution of parliament and holding early elections, Khan’s appointed deputy speaker justified the move as allegedly a “foreign conspiracy”.

As long as Khan remains in power. Pakistan’s information minister said last Sunday that Khan would continue to carry out his duties in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.

But his future as prime minister will largely depend on the decision of the Supreme Court and the possibility of holding early elections.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at the 48th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Islamabad on March 22, 2022.

What can the Supreme Court decide?

Analysts say there could be three possible outcomes.

The first – most favored by the opposition – is for the court to declare the rejection of the no-confidence vote unconstitutional and overturn Khan’s decision to hold early elections. If that happens, Khan could again face a vote of no confidence, which many expect he will lose.

In the second scenario, the court may rule that Khan’s decision was unconstitutional, but refuse to reinstate the assembly, arguing that it has no jurisdiction to do so. Under such a scenario, early elections may take place anyway.

A third potential outcome could be that the court refuses to rule, effectively supporting Khan’s actions and paving the way for an early election.

If Khan wins, Pakistan could go to the polls within 90 days.

Supporters of Prime Minister Imran Khan chant slogans during a protest in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, April 3, 2022.

Will Khan win an early election?

About 16 years after he became an MP, Khan was elected prime minister in 2018, promising to eradicate poverty and corruption and promising a “new Pakistan”.

Since then, he has enjoyed widespread popular support, with tens of thousands taking to the streets of the capital Islamabad in recent days to support him.

Khan’s allegations of foreign interference appear to be intended to bolster his support among a population that can sometimes show strong anti-American sentiment.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, director of the Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency, said the move would be difficult for the opposition to resist.

“He is an excellent speaker. Nevertheless, a large number of people continue to support (Khan). This is populism at its finest,” Mehboob said.

Khan gained momentum by repeatedly calling on his supporters to rally in Islamabad. He also accused the opposition of corruption.

“We have decided to dissolve (Parliament) because since I came to power, I have been asked to resign,” he said in an address to the nation on Monday.

However, Surya Deva, a professor at Sydney’s Macquarie School of Law, said Khan’s decision to call an early election could backfire. Khan “has not been able to manage the economy well, and with a growing rift with both external and internal allies, even elections will not be easy for him,” Deva said.

Sophia Saifi of CNN wrote from Islamabad and Rhea Mogul wrote from Hong Kong.

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