Imran Khan ousted as Pakistan’s leader by no-confidence vote

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

After a tense session of the lower house of parliament that began 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 on anyone,” opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif said after the vote.

Sharif, descendant of a leading industrialist family and brother of former three-year Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has been named the opposition candidate for the post of next prime minister in a vote expected to nominate him as Pakistan’s new leader as soon as Sunday.

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

But his fall, more than a year before elections expected next summer, comes at a time of mounting economic challenges for the country. The nuclear-armed nation is in the midst of a $6 billion IMF lending program that has included unpopular measures including increases in utility prices.

Now rising fast inflationpartly driven by the fallout from escalating commodity prices, has prompted warnings of unrest.

“Hubris, unpredictable governance, poor economic management and intolerance of the opposition were among the key factors responsible for his downfall,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former ambassador to the US and to the UN who is now a political commentator.

Before Khan’s departure, there were reports that Pakistan’s powerful army had withdrawn its support from the prime minister. The opposition claimed after his election in 2018 that the army played a crucial role in ensuring his victory, including by influencing leading politicians to support him. Senior army officers denied the claims.

Pakistan has been ruled by the army for almost half of its 75 years since gaining independence from the British Raj.

“The upcoming transition is fraught with challenges, particularly in managing a debt-ridden and inflation-ridden economy,” Lodhi said.

“The way ahead is characterized by uncertainty. But the good news is that the constitution has triumphed and democracy has been strengthened.”

Business leaders warned the new government would face difficult challenges, including popular anger over soaring fuel and electricity prices.

Last month, amid mounting pressure from his political opponents, Khan announced he would subsidize fuel and electricity tariffs to gain popular support. A senior Finance Ministry official in Islamabad told the FT that the IMF had objected to the subsidies.

“This is not a good time for new leadership to take over Pakistan,” said the head of a leading company in Karachi, Pakistan’s southern port city.

Separately, a senior opposition leader at the FT said Sharif could announce general elections before the end of this year “to avoid elections happening [in 2023] if economic trends could make his government less popular”.

In recent weeks, Khan has repeatedly claimed he was the victim of a US plot to remove him after traveling to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on the day Russia began invading Ukraine. US officials have denied the claim.

Politicians close to Khan said he plans to raise the issue at rallies in the coming days to rally support.

“Imran Khan wants Pakistanis to remember him for standing against America, even at the cost of losing power,” one said. Imran Khan ousted as Pakistan’s leader by no-confidence vote

Adam Bradshaw

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