Pakistan to go to the polls after PM Khan foils sacking attempt
Pakistan will go to the polls to elect a new government within three months after Prime Minister Imran Khan foiled an attempt to boot him from office on Sunday by getting the president to dissolve the national assembly.
On a day of high drama, the assembly deputy speaker refused to accept a motion of no confidence in the government, as Khan appeared on TV to say there had been "foreign interference" in Pakistan's democratic institutions.
"I have sent advice to the president to dissolve the assemblies. We will go to the public and hold elections, and let the nation decide," he said.
The presidency -- a largely ceremonial office -- acceded hours later.
No premier of Pakistan has ever completed a full term, and Khan has been facing the biggest challenge to his rule since being elected in 2018, with opponents accusing him of economic mismanagement and bungling foreign policy.
On Sunday parliament was due to debate a no-confidence motion that looked certain to succeed, but the deputy speaker -- a Khan loyalist -- refused to accept it, causing uproar in the chamber.
The move appeared to blindside the opposition, who had confidently predicted they had enough votes to boot Khan from office.
"This day will be remembered as a black day in Pakistan's constitutional history," said Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), who had been tipped to replace Khan if the vote had succeeded.
Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) effectively lost its majority in the 342-member assembly last week when a coalition partner said its seven lawmakers would vote with the opposition.
More than a dozen PTI members had also indicated they would cross the floor.
Khan has accused the opposition of conspiring with "foreign powers" to remove him because he will not take the West's side on global issues against Russia and China.
Earlier this week he accused the United States of meddling in Pakistan's affairs.
Local media had reported that Khan received a briefing letter from Islamabad's ambassador to Washington recording a senior US official saying they felt relations would be better if Khan left office.
In Washington last week State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters there was "no truth" to the allegations, but Khan insisted Sunday it was "a move to change the regime", and accused the opposition of betrayal.
"This betrayal was taking place in front of the entire nation... traitors were sitting and planning this conspiracy," he added.
The opposition is headed by the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) -- two usually feuding dynastic groups that dominated national politics for decades until Khan forged a coalition against them.
Khan was elected after promising to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism, but has struggled to maintain support with inflation skyrocketing, a feeble rupee and crippling debt.
Some analysts said Khan had also lost the crucial support of the military -- claims both sides deny -- but it is unlikely he would have pulled off Sunday's manoeuvre without its knowledge, if not blessing.
There have been four military coups -- and at least as many unsuccessful ones -- since independence in 1947, and the country has spent more than three decades under army rule.
"The best option in this situation are fresh elections to enable the new government to handle economic, political and external problems faced by the country," said Talat Masood, a general turned political analyst.
Khan, an ex-international cricket star who in 1992 captained Pakistan to their only World Cup win, had hinted Saturday he still had a card to play.
"I have a plan for tomorrow, you should not be worried about it. I will show them and will defeat them in the assembly."