ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Prime Minister Imran Khan's move to dissolve parliament was unconstitutional and called for lawmakers to return in two days, a decision that could spell the end of his premiership.
The no confidence vote against Prime Minister Imran Khan will now be held on Saturday. If Imran Khan loses, he will be the first Prime Minister to be removed through a no-trust vote. Two other Prime Ministers against whom a no-confidence motion was called, had resigned before the vote, but former cricket star Khan had refused to step down, insisting that he would "play till the last ball".
His opponents had garnered the 172 votes needed to oust him in the 342-seat house, after several members of his own party and a key coalition partner defected. But Khan dissolved Parliament on Sunday and set the stage for early elections, accusing the opposition of working with the United States to remove him from power for pursuing an independent foreign policy.
The opposition claimed Khan violated the constitution and took their case to the country's top court.
The Supreme Court ordered for the session of the National Assembly to reconvene on Saturday at 10am. saying that the session cannot be adjourned without the conclusion of the no-trust motion against Prime Minister Khan.
The chief justice said the verdict was announced with a unanimous agreement of 5-0 after the judges consulted each other. "The current issues are done away with," he said.The verdict said that the government could not interfere in the participation of any member in the assembly session.
The constitutional crisis has threatened economic and social stability in the nuclear-armed nation of 220 million people, with the rupee currency hitting all-time lows earlier on Thursday and foreign exchange reserves tumbling.
When opposition parties united against Khan last week to push for the no-confidence motion, the deputy speaker of parliament, a member of Khan's party, threw out the motion, ruling it was part of a foreign conspiracy and unconstitutional.
Khan said Washington wants him gone because of what he describes as his independent foreign policy, which often favors China and Russia. Khan has also been a strident critic of Washington's war on terror and was criticized for a visit to Moscow on Feb. 24, hours after Russian tanks crossed into Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan's internal politics. After the no-confidence motion was thrown out, Khan dissolved the parliament and went on national TV to announce early elections.
The 69-year-old Khan came to power in 2018 after rallying the country behind his vision of a corruption-free, prosperous nation respected on the world stage.But it appears that the firebrand nationalist's fame and charisma may not be enough to keep him in power.
If Khan were to lose the no-confidence vote, the opposition could nominate its own prime minister and hold power until August 2023, by which date fresh elections have to be held.The opposition has said it wants early elections, but only after delivering a political defeat to Khan and passing legislation it says is required to ensure the next polls are free and fair.
"This is the unfortunate fact about Pakistani politics -- the political issues, which should be settled in the parliament are instead brought to the Supreme Court to settle," said analyst Zahid Hussain, who has authored several books on militancy in the region and Islamabad's complicated relationship with Washington. "It is just a weakness of the system."
Pakistan's top court or its powerful military have consistently stepped in whenever turmoil engulfs a democratically elected government in Pakistan. The army has seized power and ruled for more than half of Pakistan's 75-year history.
The military has remained quiet over the latest crisis although army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa told a security summit in Islamabad over the weekend that Pakistan wants good relations with China, a major investor, and also with the United States, the country's largest export market.
The latest political chaos has spilled over into the country's largest province of Punjab, where 60% of Pakistan's 220 million people live and where Khan's ally for chief provincial minister was denied the post on Wednesday after his political opposition voted in their own candidate.