Imran Khan was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan early Sunday, ending a week of political uncertainty that has fueled the devaluation of the rupee, pulled the country’s stock market and forced the central bank to raise interest rates.
Following a tense session of the lower house of parliament that began on Saturday morning, a coalition of Pakistani opposition parties received the support of 174 members in the 342-seat House to vote no confidence in Khan.
“We will bring stability to Pakistan. “There will be no revenge on anyone,” said Shehbaz Sharif, the opposition leader after the vote.
Sharif, a descendant of a leading industrial family and the brother of former prime minister in three terms Nawaz Sharif, has been nominated as the opposition candidate for the next prime minister in a vote expected to nominate him as Pakistan’s new leader as early as Sunday.
Khan, a popular international cricket star, became prime minister in 2018 thanks to promises to reform Pakistan. While in power, he transformed his image of a playboy from the 1970s and 1980s and became a fan of conservative Islam, welcoming the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan last year.
But his removal more than a year before the elections expected by next summer comes at a time of growing economic challenges for the country. The nuclear-armed nation is in the midst of a $ 6 billion loan program from the IMF that included unpopular measures, including rising utility prices.
Meanwhile, it is growing rapidly inflationdriven in part by the consequences of escalating commodity prices, it sparked warnings of unrest.
“Hubris, unsustainable governance, poor economic governance and intolerance of the opposition were among the key factors responsible for its downfall,” said Maleeha Lodhi, a former ambassador to the United States and the United Nations who is now a political commentator.
Prior to Khan’s departure, there were reports that a powerful Pakistani military had withdrawn support for the prime minister. After his election in 2018, the opposition argued that the military played a crucial role in securing his victory, including influencing leading politicians to support him. Senior military officers denied the allegations.
Pakistan has been ruled by an army for less than half of its 75 years since gaining independence from the British Reich.
“The transition ahead is full of challenges, especially managing a debt-laden economy and inflation,” Lodhi said.
“The road ahead is characterized by uncertainty. But the good news is that the constitution has won and democracy has strengthened. “
Business leaders have warned that the new government will face difficult challenges such as public outrage over rising fuel and electricity prices.
Last month, under growing pressure from his political opponents, Khan announced subsidies on fuel and electricity tariffs in a bid to gain public 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 any new leadership to take control of Pakistan,” said the head of a leading company in Karachi, a southern Pakistani port city.
Separately, a senior opposition leader told the FT that Sharif could call parliamentary elections before the end of this year “to avoid going to the polls” [in 2023] when economic trends could make his government less popular ”.
In the past few weeks, Khan has repeatedly claimed that he was the victim of a US conspiracy to remove him after his trip to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the day Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. U.S. officials have denied the allegations.
Politicians close to Khan said they plan to raise the issue at rallies in the coming days to garner support.
“Imran Khan wants Pakistanis to remember him for opposing America, even at the cost of losing power in the end,” said one.