The Speaker
Friday, 14 June 2024 – 09:35

What is happening in Pakistan?

Shehbaz Sharif has been elected by the Pakistani parliament as the new Prime Minister, after Imran Khan was removed on Sunday by a vote of no confidence.

Imran Khan, erstwhile Prime Minister of Pakistan, was removed from office on Sunday after the National Assembly held a vote of no confidence, securing 174 votes in a house with a total of 342 seats. Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the largest opposition party under Khan, was elected as Prime Minister following the vote. He will serve until the next election is scheduled in late 2023 – when Khan’s term would have naturally run out.

Politics in Pakistan is typically saturated with military influence and this recent upset has been no different. For almost all of Pakistan’s history as a self-proclaimed republic, the military has helped a pliable young politician into office, before ousting them sometime later over a difference of opinion. This has resulted in the premiership typically swapping between the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) (and its antecedents) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) depending on which is more favoured by the military at a particular time. It appeared, for a time, as if things had started to improve. During General Musharraf’s premiership the then-exiled leaders of the PML-N and PPP signed the Charter of Democracy; a document promising a commitment to not conspire with the military should it attempt to remove or replace a serving government. After Musharraf resigned in 2008 to avoid impeachment, the PPP won the subsequent elections and became the ruling party; in 2013 the PML-N won the elections and power was transferred peacefully without military involvement. This marked the first set of consecutive “free” and “fair” elections in the country’s 75 years as a republic – a significant marker typically used by political scientists to classify a country as genuinely democratic.

By the time the 2018 elections came around the military, having had limited influence for the past decade, began supporting former cricketer Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Justice Party, helping the party rise to prominence and claiming the largest number of seats in the National Assembly.

Since then Khan and the military have drifted apart over differences in opinion regarding appointments the Prime Minister made, while the PML-N and PPP appear to have reverted to old methods and once again conspire with the military.

Since a vote of no confidence first became likely, Khan has been framing the attempt to remove him as a US-backed coup, claiming that Western powers are trying to oust him due to his friendliness with Putin and refusal to condemn its invasion of Ukraine. Khan visited Putin in Moscow on the 24th of February, the same day the invasion began, and Pakistan was one of the nations which abstained from the UN vote to condemn Russia for the invasion.

As a vote of no confidence became near-inevitable, Khan desperately attempted to cling on to power. Initially the vote was blocked by a member of his party, before an appeal was sent to the Supreme Court. Four days later the court ruled against the blocking of the vote, and said that it must be allowed to go ahead.

But Khan had other cards up his sleeve. While the vote was delayed by the Speaker of the House and his party members, Khan attempted to provoke the military into martial law by removing the army’s Chief of Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, from his position. He also attempted to dissolve parliament in order to trigger a general election. All of these attempts failed, however, and on Sunday Imran Khan was voted out of office. Early on Monday morning his fellow party members sitting in the National Assembly tendered their resignations en masse.

Khan’s replacement, Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N, is the younger brother of former President Nawaz Sharif, and has previously served a total of 12 non-consecutive years as Chief Minister of Punjab; Pakistan’s largest province.

Some may lament however, how in some ways this is a step backwards for Pakistani politics. The PPP and PML-N’s leadership typically passes through a handful of politically prevalent dynasties, notable among them the Sharif, Bhutto, and Zardari families. This dynastic progression was an aspect of Pakistani politics that Khan had criticised and which many people had been happy to see the back of.

There have been protests against Khan’s removal, but the full extent to which Khan is supported by the broader populace is difficult to gauge. What does appear to be the case is that – unlike in 2008 when broad popular opposition forced Musharraf to resign – this transfer of power is very much an intra-elite affair.

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