Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will seek a confidence vote in the National Assembly, or parliament’s lower house, on Saturday after his finance minister lost an election for a seat in the upper house, the biggest test yet for his three-year-old government.
Khan will also address the nation Thursday, Information Minister Shibli Faraz said on Geo television channel, which also reported the premier met the powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the head of the country’s spy agency, General Faiz Hameed earlier in the day. The developments followed a surprise loss for the prime minister in the country’s Senate after Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh lost a tightly fought battle for a seat in the indirectly elected house against the opposition-backed former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Seats to the Senate are voted on by the directly elected members of the powerful National Assembly and Khan is seeking the vote to show he still commands a majority there despite Shaikh’s loss, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a news conference after the election. The premier will have to dissolve the National Assembly and call for fresh elections if he fails to win the confidence vote.
Shaikh had to win a Parliament seat to continue as the finance minister after June 11. He is a key member in-charge of the government’s economic policies and reforms plan under the International Monetary Fund’s $6 billion loan program. Khan could help the minister win another seat or re-appoint him as an economic adviser, where he would have fewer powers.
Khan should be able to secure majority votes from lawmakers in the 342-member lower house when the voting is held, according to Mohammed Sohail, Chief Executive Officer at Karachi-based Topline Securities Ltd., and political analyst Mazhar Abbas.
Khan’s meeting with the army chief Bajwa is believed to be significant amid allegations the military helped him come into power after the controversial national elections in 2018. The prime minister has openly claimed the military, which has ruled the South Asian country for more than half of the years since its independence in 1947, supports him. In Khan’s government, the army has already expanded its control from foreign and security policies to economic strategy.
Gilani, who was supported by an alliance of 11 opposition parties, won by securing 169 votes against 164 won by Shaikh, according to a televised announcement by a Parliament official. Seven votes were rejected. Khan had the backing of 180 lawmakers in the National Assembly when he came to power. The opposition alliance asked Khan to resign after the loss.
Pakistan’s benchmark KSE-100 Index fell as much as 2.3 per cent, the most in more than three months, before recovering some losses.
“This senate defeat will cause some political instability but the impact will mitigate to some extent if the prime minister gets the confidence vote,” Topline’s Sohail said.
A vote of confidence is conducted through an open recording of votes making it harder for Khan’s allies to vote against him, said Hasnain Malik, head of equity strategy at Tellimer Dubai Ltd. The senate voting was conducted in a closed ballot where individual votes are not disclosed.
While the final tally of the 100-seat Senate isn’t out yet, Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party is the single largest party in Senate with at least 26 seats, according to a report in the Dawn newspaper. But his ruling coalition is still likely to fall short of a majority in the 100-member upper house needed to push through crucial legislation, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, said on television Wednesday.
The Senate result has been a boost for the opposition alliance that plans to march on Islamabad on March 26 to topple Khan’s government, two years before he finishes a five-year term. The alliance includes the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led by ex-premier Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Peoples Party of former President Asif Ali Zardari.