National Assembly session to debate no-confidence motion adjourned

ISLAMABAD: A critical session of the National Assembly convened to debate no-confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, which could see the former cricket star ousted and the return of political uncertainty in the country, was adjourned minutes after it began on Thursday.

Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who presided over the session, adjourned the session until 11:30 am on Sunday.

At the outset of the session, which began at 4:00 pm, Babar Awan, advise to the prime minister for parliamentary affairs, moved a motion to adjourn the session so the space could be used for the Parliamentary Committee on National Security’s meeting that was scheduled to be held at 6:00 pm.

However, the motion was rejected after voting.

Khan has been facing mounting criticism of his performance, including charges of his management of an economy beset by high inflation and rising deficits, and he lost his majority in the Lower House on Wednesday when the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) quit his coalition.

The pro-establishment party — which threw its lot in with the opposition seeking to oust the prime minister — has seven seats in the Lower House.

A vote on the motion must be held by Monday.

Opposition leaders had called on Khan to resign even before he lost his majority in parliament, but his aides have said he will not quit.

Khan’s ouster could mean another round of instability in a country in which no prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.

HOW DOES THE NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE WORK

Under the constitution, a prime minister is elected by a majority of the National Assembly, which has 342 members.

A candidate needs a majority of legislators, 172, to vote for him to become prime minister. That is the same number of votes against him in a no-confidence vote needed to oust him and dissolve his cabinet.

So Khan could survive a no-confidence vote even if he got fewer votes than the opposition but only if the latter did not get the 172 votes that make up a majority in the 342-seat House.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE VOTE?

If Khan loses the vote, parliament can continue to function until its five-year tenure ends in August 2023, after which a general election is due within 60 days.

There will be a vote in the National Assembly to elect a new prime minister to serve until then. Candidates can be put forward by any party with legislators in the assembly.

The new prime minister can, however, call a general election immediately, without waiting until 2023.

Some constitutional analysts say the assembly can be dissolved and a general election held if no candidate can secure a majority of votes to become the prime minister.

WHAT IS THE TIMELINE OF THE VOTE?

Opposition parties filed the no-confidence motion on March 8, and it was presented and tabled before the National Assembly on Monday.

The speaker of the National Assembly has to carry out the vote no sooner than three days and no later than seven days after the motion is tabled.

The earliest the vote can happen is Thursday (today). The latest, by most accounts, is Monday.

IS THE VOTE CLOSE?

Khan faces a tight vote. He became prime minister after his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) party won the most seats in the 2018 general elections.

However, the PTI did not have a simple majority by itself and had to form a coalition with other parties.

The PTI has 155 members and Khan crossed the 172-vote threshold to be elected prime minister in 2018 with the help of coalition partners. The PTI-led coalition increased its numbers over the past three years.

WHAT IS KHAN’S STRATEGY?

Khan has ordered all ruling legislators to remain absent from the assembly on the day of the vote to mitigate any chance of dissidents secretly supporting the motion to remove him.

Absenteeism would not hurt Khan’s cause because he doesn’t need to win; he just needs to ensure the opposition cannot get the 172 votes needed to pass the no-confidence motion.

Khan has also filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking lifetime electoral bans against those found to have broken ranks, in a bid to dissuade potential dissidents.

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