Imran Khan ousted as Pakistani leader in vote of no confidence

Imran Khan was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan early on Sunday, ending weeks of political uncertainty that had fueled a devaluation of the rupee, dragged down the country’s stock market and forced the central bank to raise interest rates .

Following a tense session of the lower house of parliament that began on Saturday morning, a coalition of Pakistani opposition parties won the support of 174 members in the 342-seat house to pass a vote of no confidence in Khan.

“We will bring stability to Pakistan. There will be no revenge against anyone,” opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif said after the vote.

Sharif, a scion of a prominent industrial family and brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has been nominated as the opposition candidate to become the next prime minister in a vote expected to name him Pakistan’s new leader. from Sunday.

Khan, a popular international cricket star, became prime minister in 2018 on the back of promises to reform Pakistan. During his tenure, he transformed his 1970s and 1980s playboy image and became an admirer of conservative Islam, hailing the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan last year.

But his ousting more than a year before elections scheduled for next summer comes at a time of growing economic difficulties for the country. The nuclear-armed nation is in the midst of a $6 billion IMF loan program that has involved unpopular measures, including hikes in utility prices.

Meanwhile, rapidly rising inflation, driven in part by fallout from soaring commodity prices, has prompted warnings of trouble.

“Pride, erratic governance, economic mismanagement and intolerance of the opposition were among the main factors responsible for its downfall,” said Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador to the United States and the UN, now a political commentator.

Prior to Khan’s departure, there were reports that the powerful Pakistani military had withdrawn its support for the prime minister. The opposition claimed after his election in 2018 that the military had played a decisive role in securing his victory, including lobbying key politicians to support him. Senior army officers have denied the allegations.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for just under half of its 75 years since gaining independence from the British Raj.

“The transition ahead is fraught with challenges, especially managing an indebted and inflation-ridden economy,” Lodhi said.

“The road ahead is characterized by uncertainty. But the good news is that the constitution prevailed and democracy grew stronger.

Business leaders have warned that the new government will face tough challenges such as popular anger over rising fuel and electricity prices.

Last month, under mounting pressure from his political opponents, Khan announced a subsidy on fuel and electricity tariffs in a bid to win popular support. A senior finance ministry official in Islamabad told the FT that the IMF had raised objections to the subsidies.

“Now is not the right time for new leadership to take charge of Pakistan,” said the head of a leading company in Karachi, the port city in southern Pakistan.

Separately, a senior opposition official told the FT that Sharif may announce parliamentary elections before the end of this year “to avoid going to elections”. [in 2023] while economic trends could make his government more unpopular”.

In recent weeks, Khan has repeatedly claimed he was the victim of a US plot to fire him after he traveled to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on the day Russia began its invasion of Russia. ‘Ukraine. US officials have denied this allegation.

Politicians close to Khan said he planned to raise the issue at rallies in the coming days to drum up support.

“Imran Khan wants Pakistanis to remember him for standing up to America, even at the cost of possible loss of power,” one said.

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