Pakistani lawmakers are to choose a new prime minister on Monday, capping a tumultuous week of political drama that saw the ouster of Imran Khan as premier and a constitutional crisis narrowly averted after the country’s top court stepped in.
The leading contender is Shahbaz Sharif, opposition lawmaker and a brother of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But his election will not guarantee a clear path forward — or solve Pakistan’s many economic problems, including high inflation and a soaring energy crisis.
Khan, a former cricket star whose conservative Islamist ideology and dogged independence characterized his three years and eight months in office, was ousted early Sunday after losing a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Deserted by his party allies and a key coalition partner, his opposition pushed Khan out with 174 votes — two more than the required simple majority in the 342-seat National Assembly.
The opposition has selected Shahbaz Sharif as its candidate for prime minister, claiming it has enough votes in his favor.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or Pakistan Justice Party, has put forward former foreign minister and seasoned politician Shah Mahmood Qureshi as its candidate. But Qureshi on Sunday muddied the waters by saying that many lawmakers in Khan’s party were contemplating resigning from Parliament after Monday’s vote for prime minister.
In a show of strength and precursor to the political uncertainty ahead, Khan rallied hundreds of thousands of supporters late Sunday to protest his ouster, and describing the next government as an “imposed government.” In cities across Pakistan, Khan’s supporters marched, waving large party flags and vowing support. The youth, who make up the backbone of Khan’s supporters, dominated the crowds.
Some were crying, others shouting slogans promising Khan’s return.
Khan has also demanded early elections, though the balloting is not due before August 2023. He has tapped into anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, accusing Washington of conspiring with his opponents to topple him. His conspiracy theory resonates with his young support base, which often sees Washington’s post 9/11 war on terror as unfairly targeting Pakistan.