Motion of censure against Pakistan's charismatic prime minister is allowed to go to vote

Opposition claims to have 172 votes to remove Imran Khan from office
El primer ministro de Pakistán, Imran Khan (C),  a su llegada para dirigirse a los partidarios del partido gobernante Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) durante un mitin en Islamabad el 27 de marzo de 2022 AFP/AAMIR QURESHI

AFP/AAMIR QURESHI  -   Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan (C), on his arrival to address supporters of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party during a rally in Islamabad on March 27, 2022. AFP/AAMIR QURESHI

On the last Monday of March, a motion of censure against Prime Minister Imran Khan, in power since 2018 and with a five-year mandate, was admitted in the Majlis-e-Shoora, Pakistan's lower legislative chamber. The opposition to the government, led by Shehbaz Sharif and bringing together the main opposition parties in the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition. The no-confidence motion is scheduled to be debated on Thursday 31 March, with a vote expected in the next seven days, and needs 172 votes to succeed.

Khan emerged in politics from being a collaborator of Pervez Musharraf to being his opponent, in the twilight of the militarist regime (2008). With a highly charismatic and populist profile, he became a notable opposition figure to the regime. 

 Los legisladores de la oposición pakistaní lanzaron el lunes una moción de censura contra el primer ministro Khan en el parlamento con la esperanza de destituir al gobierno de Khan en medio de las acusaciones de que ha gestionado mal la economía de la nación PHOTO/AP
Pakistani opposition lawmakers launched a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Khan in parliament on Monday in hopes of ousting Khan's government amid accusations that he has mismanaged the nation's economy PHOTO/AP

Being a former player of the country's most followed sport, cricket, brought him great fame and fortune that made him a very recognisable figure. Coupled with a stint in jail for his political opposition, Khan became the perfect mix for an attractive leader. 

His nationalist and liberal stances, coupled with a highly personalistic campaign and communication that attacked corruption and social injustice, helped him win power in 2018 with 155 seats for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party. 

Simpatizantes de la Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) corean eslóganes y agitan palos durante una concentración antigubernamental organizada por el Movimiento Democrático de Pakistán (PDM), una alianza de partidos políticos de la oposición, después de que el parlamento aceptara una moción de censura presentada por legisladores de la oposición en un intento de destituir al primer ministro Imran Khan REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO
Supporters of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) chant slogans and wave sticks during an anti-government rally organised by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of opposition political parties, after parliament accepted a no-confidence motion tabled by opposition lawmakers in a bid to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO

However, the economic crisis in Pakistan has caused severe inflation that has earned Prime Minister Khan rebukes in the lower house. The prime minister built his entire election campaign in 2018 on the premise that the public coffers would no longer be indebted to foreign loans to end the vicious cycle of deficits plaguing Pakistan. Despite this, Khan's government took out a $6 billion loan with the International Monetary Fund in 2019.

Difficulty in repaying loans is driving up prices in Pakistan. The household basket ( CPI) has been rising since the pandemic to stand at 160.61 points according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, with 145.09 points in April 2021. It is a problem that has been weighing on the country for years, along with its inflation rate, which stood at 12. 5% at the end of March.

In addition, Pakistan's difficult political situation, a federalist nation divided into five major regions, has always been a thorn in the PTI's side, with weak local support, unlike the traditional parties in the PDM coalition. In addition to this situation in the country, the PTI has suffered from a certain amount of instability in recent years, which has led 12 PTI MPs to directly confront Imran Khan, and which could be the key to victory for the opposition during the vote of no-confidence motion in the first week of April. 

Khan, who announced last week that he will not resign, has tried to secure the support of his partners by swapping power in Punjab, Pakistan's largest federal region, until now with a PTI president and governor. From Punjab is Shehbaz Sharif (PDM), who contested the regional elections against Usman Buzdar and lost.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif, en el centro, líder del Movimiento Democrático de Pakistán, una alianza de partidos de la oposición, en el centro, asiste a un mitin, en Islamabad, Pakistán, el lunes 28 de marzo de 2022 AP/RAHMAT GUL
Maryam Nawaz Sharif, centre, leader of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of opposition parties, centre, attends a rally, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, March 28, 2022 AP/RAHMAT GUL

Usman Buzdar was the PTI leadership's choice for the Punjab elections, and despite winning the regional elections, his appointment caused dissatisfaction in the party. On 28 March, Usman Buzdar resigned as Punjab chairman at the request of party leader Imran Khan. 

Prime Minister Khan seems ready to fight for Pakistan's government and both his party and the opposition parties are calling for large mobilisations from all over the country.  The opposition is also calling for long marches from the regional and provincial capitals to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. Among them is the column from Lahore, capital of Punjab, led by Nawaz Sharif's, former prime minister and a leading figure in the opposition to Khan. 

Activistas y simpatizantes del partido gobernante Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) llegan para asistir a un mitin junto a una valla publicitaria con una imagen del primer ministro de Pakistán, Imran Khan, en Islamabad el 27 de marzo de 2022 AFP/FAROOQ NAEEM
Activists and supporters of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party arrive to attend a rally next to a billboard with an image of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Islamabad March 27, 2022.

The PTI has been accused of manipulating some data regarding their support on the streets, as reported by the Al-Jazeera news network, whose team of reporters in Pakistan recounts how they were denied access to demonstrations and rallies in support of Imran Khan. The suspicion is that the PTI does not want real or extraneous evidence of the number of supporters attending its rallies to be recorded.

In his media appearances and communiqués, Imran Khan has denounced the no-confidence motion as a foreign intrusion with obscure motives, with the intention of boosting sentiments and support among Pakistan's nationalists.