File image: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a news conference on November 19, 2020. (Image: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail)
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 4 announced he will seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly in a bid to restore the legitimacy of his government in the wake of the embarrassing defeat of his Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in the hotly-contested Senate elections.
Under mounting pressure from the Opposition to resign, Khan made the announcement in a televised address to the nation. During the address, the 68-year-old cricketer-turned politician lashed out at the opposition alliance for "making a mockery of democracy" and said he will never let the corrupt off the hook.
Former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who was a candidate of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) – a grouping of 11 opposition parties – defeated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate Shaikh on March 3, delivering a major blow to Khan who had personally campaigned for his Cabinet colleague. The PDM was set up in September 2020 to challenge Khan’s government.
"I will take a vote of confidence the day after tomorrow (on March 6). I will ask my members to show if they have confidence in me. If they say they have no confidence, I will sit on Opposition benches," Khan said.
"If I am out of the government, I will go to the people and bring them out to continue my struggle for the country. I will not let these traitors (who plundered the country) sit in peace. I call them traitors because they are looters,” Khan said.
How the numbers are stacked
Khan's party has 157 members in the 342-member National Assembly. Opposition Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) have 84 and 54 members, respectively.
Pakistani President Arif Alvi has been conveyed to summon the National Assembly session. The members of the ruling party and its allies have been asked to be present in capital Islamabad. Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed met Khan and discussed various national issues amid the political drama.
Explaining the political situation in the country, Khan said it was important to talk about it and explain it, because the problems in Pakistan can be understood through the kind of election that happened. The country's leadership comes from within the members of parliament "and here you have people becoming Senators after bribing others," he said.
"The [person] who becomes a senator and wants to become one, uses money and who do they buy? Members of Parliament. What joke is happening with our democracy? What kind of democracy is this?" a visibly upset Khan said.
Khan recalled that in the 2018 Senate election, 20 of his party's lawmakers had allegedly sold their votes after accepting money."We expelled them but then I saw that it wasn't just me saying this, but the two main parties that signed the Charter of Democracy the PML-N and PPP had agreed that there should be an open ballot because money is exchanged in the Senate elections," he added.
"I now ask you. Why do you think the same parties who wanted an open ballot now geared all their efforts to have a secret ballot?" Khan said, attacking the Opposition parties which demanded a secret ballot during Senate elections.
Khan lashes out at Election Commission
Khan also lashed out at the Election Commission which he said had failed to stop corruption in the elections. "You (ECP) discredited democracy, you damaged the morality of the nation by doing nothing to stop vote-buying."
He also talked about the slow fall of Pakistan into backwardness after 1985 non-party elections which ushered in the use of money in politics. He claimed before that, Pakistan was far better as compared to India.
"When I used to come to Pakistan from India after playing cricket, it looked as if you had come from a poor country to a rich country," Khan said. He said the Opposition parties tried to blackmail him in order to get concessions in their corruption cases. "They used money to win Senate elections to put pressure on me in Parliament," he said.
Khan claimed his party members were offered Rs 200 crore to buy votes and 15-16 members of his party sold themselves. He said it was important to stop corruption at the top before expecting the people to become honest. He also said that a leader can make more money in one deal than all money plundered by all thieves rotting in jails.
Commenting on the decision of the government to seek a vote of confidence, former premier and senior leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that it was not substitute of fair and free elections. "The prime minister has lost moral ground to remain in office... he should announce elections," news agency PTI quoted Abbasi as saying.(With inputs from PTI)