Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has been afforded a breather. And to summon the terminology of cricket, he will not have to walk back to the pavilion for now. Yet this seemingly reassuring thought ought to be tempered with the fact that Saturday’s vote of confidence in the National Assembly, the Lower House of Parliament, was boycotted by the Opposition.
Khan had sought the vote following a surprise defeat on a Senate seat ~ the defeat of finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh to the opposition’s Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contest last Wednesday.
Mr Khan is the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party that helms the ruling coalition, and was elected to power in a general election in 2018. The Prime Minister received 178 votes reposing confidence in his leadership in the 342-member National Assembly; yet the fact remains that the majority mark has barely crossed the half-way mark. It is hard not to wonder whether his government contends with a somewhat brittle foundation.
Few will readily buy the Speaker, Asad Qaiser’s euphoric statement that “Mr Imran Khan has obtained the vote of confidence from the National Assembly and commands the confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly as the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”
Nonetheless, Mr Khan ought to be able to shore up his hold on power, following the defeat of his finance minister. Historians will record Saturday’s vote as one that was cast by a truncated House. On Friday, the opposition’s 10-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) announced that it would boycott the vote and the opposition benches were virtually deserted throughout the proceedings on Saturday.
Addressing the House following the vote, a defiant Mr Khan attacked the opposition for alleged corruption and demanded the Election Commission conduct an inquiry into the Senate race. And this must include “a secret briefing from Pakistan’s [intelligence] agencies”. Last week, the Supreme Court nullified a government ordinance requiring the vote to be conducted by open and public ballot.
In an address to the nation, Mr Khan alleged the opposition had “bought” the votes of members of his ruling party or his allies in order to win Gilani’s Senate seat. And this was to show that somehow Imran Khan had lost his majority. The next step was to bring a vote of no-confidence.
“The real reason was to use a vote of confidence as a sword over my head to blackmail me into giving them amnesty.” Mr Khan doesn’t seem to be overly confident in the aftermath of victory in the National Assembly. It is hard not to wonder whether Pakistan and the Prime Minister’s party, PTI, are at the crossroads.