ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistan’s political opposition ousted the country’s embattled prime minister in a no confidence vote on Saturday, which they won after several of Imran Khan’s allies and a key coalition party deserted him.
The combined opposition that spans the political spectrum from the left to the radically religious will form the new government, with the head of one of the largest parties, the Pakistani Muslim League, taking over as prime minister.
Anticipating his loss, Khan, who charged his opposition colluded with the United States to unseat him, has called on his supporters to stage rallies nationwide on Sunday. Khan’s options are limited and should he see a big turnout in his support, he may try to keep the momentum of street protests as a way to pressure Parliament to hold early elections.
Khan earlier had tried to sidestep the vote by dissolving Parliament and calling early elections but a Supreme Court ruling ordered the vote to go ahead.
In an impassioned speech Friday, Khan doubled down on his accusations that his opponents colluded with the United States to unseat him over his foreign policy choices, which often seemed to favor China and Russia and defied the U.S.
Khan said Washington opposed his Feb. 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin hours after tanks rolled into Ukraine, launching a devastating war in the heart of Europe.
The U.S. State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics. Deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters on Friday there was "absolutely no truth to these allegations."
Still, Khan urged his supporters to take to the streets, particularly the youth who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricket star turned conservative Islamist politician came to power in 2018. He said they needed to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and oppose U.S. dictations.
"You have to come out to protect your own future. It is you who have to protect your democracy, your sovereignty and your independence. ... This is your duty," he said. "I will not accept an imposed government."
Khan’s options are limited and should he see a big turnout in support, he may try to keep the momentum of street protests as a way to pressure Parliament to dissolve and go to early elections.
The no-confidence vote loss for Khan may bring to power some unlikely partners.
Among them is a radically religious party that runs scores of religious schools. The Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam, or Assembly of Clerics, teaches a deeply conservative brand of Islam in its schools. Many of Afghanistan's Taliban and Pakistan's own homegrown violent Taliban graduated from JUI schools.
The largest among the opposition parties — the Pakistan People’s Party, led by the son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League — have been tainted by allegations of widespread corruption.
Pakistan Muslim League leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was convicted of corruption after being named in the so-called Panama Papers. That's a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest hide their money and involving a global law firm based in Panama. Sharif was disqualified by Pakistan’s Supreme Court from holding office.
If the opposition wins the no-confidence vote, it is up to Parliament to choose a new head of government, which could be Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif. If the lawmakers are unsuccessful, early elections would be called.