Thousands protest in Pakistan after Prime Minister Imran Khan ousted in no-confidence vote

Thousands of Imran Khan’s supporters have poured onto streets across Pakistan, a day after the former prime minister lost a no-confidence vote in parliament.

The crowds held placards, waved flags promoting Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Party, and chanted slogans.

Young people, who make up the backbone of Mr Khan’s supporters, dominated the crowds.

In the southern Arabian Sea port city of Karachi more than 20,000 people shouted slogans promising Mr Khan’s return to power.

In the capital Islamabad, the lights from thousands of supporters lit up the night sky as Mr Khan made his way through the crowd on the top of a brightly colored truck.

“In a democratic system the final voice will be the voice of the people, and the voice is the people is Imran Khan,” Ambareen Turk, a local party activist who joined the protesters in Islamabad, said.

A large crowd of Pakistani people rallying outdoors in the evening, with many wave flags of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf political party
Supporters of Imran Khan take part in a rally in Lahore on Sunday.(AP: KM Chaudary)

Mr Khan’s government fell in the early hours of Sunday morning after a 13-hour session of parliament that included repeated delays and lengthy speeches by politicians from his party.

Opposition parties were able to secure 174 votes in the 342-member house for the no-confidence motion, giving them the majority they needed to enable Monday’s vote to elect a new leader.

Mr Khan antagonized the United States throughout his tenure, welcoming the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year and more recently accusing the United States of being behind the attempt to oust him.

Washington dismissed the accusation.

“No to imported government,” said one placard in Karachi as protesters chanted: “Any friend of America is a traitor.”

Smaller rallies were held in Quetta, Peshawar Mardan and other cities.

Opposition politician Shehbaz Sharif submitted his nomination to be Pakistan’s next prime minister to the legislature on Sunday, his party said.

The younger brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, 70-year-old Mr Shehbaz led the move to topple former cricket star Mr Khan, and he is widely expected to replace him following a vote today.

A photo of a man holding up his hands and gesturing while talking
Seventy-year-old Shehbaz Sharif hopes to become Pakistan’s next leader.(Reuters: Akhtar Soomro, file)

Mr Khan’s party also submitted papers nominating former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as a candidate, saying its MPs would resign en masse should he lose, potentially creating the need for urgent by-elections.

That could plunge the country into another crisis, as the election commission has previously said it would not be ready to hold elections until October.

Mr Khan, the first Pakistani prime minister to be ousted by a no-confidence vote, had clung on for almost a week after a united opposition first tried to remove him.

Yesterday he repeated allegations that a foreign conspiracy was behind the regime change.

“The freedom struggle begins again today,” he said via his Twitter account, which is followed by more than 15 million people and still describes him as Prime Minister of Pakistan in his biography section.

Even before the vote Mr Khan had called for protests, which took place late on Sunday (local time).

“I tell all of my supporters across Pakistan, on Sunday, after Isha [evening] prayers, you all have to come out of your homes and protest peacefully against this imported government that is trying to come to power, “Mr Khan said in an address to the nation on Friday.

Men cheer with their arms in the air
Supporters of an opposition party chant slogans in Islamabad as they celebrate the success of the no-confidence vote.(AP: Anjum Naveed)

Role of the military

Two sources who declined to be identified said the vote that ousted Mr Khan went ahead after the powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, met Mr Khan, amid mounting criticism over the delay in the parliamentary process.

The Supreme Court had also ordered parliament to convene and hold the no-confidence vote on April 9, after Mr Khan sought to block the vote, call early elections and dissolve parliament.

The military has ruled the country of 220 million people for almost half of its nearly 75-year history.

It viewed Mr Khan and his conservative agenda favorably when he won the election in 2018, but that support waned after a falling-out over the appointment of the influential military intelligence chief and economic troubles that led to the biggest interest rate rise in decades this week.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures with the palms of his hands, with a Pakistani flag behind him
Mr Khan told his supporters to protest.(Reuters: Saiyna Bashi)

Mr Khan had antagonized the United States throughout his tenure, welcoming the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year and more recently accusing the US of being behind the attempt to oust him. Washington dismissed the accusation.

Would-be PM Shehbaz Sharif said Mr Khan’s departure was a chance for a new beginning.

Mr Sharif has been chief minister of Punjab province for years, and has a reputation as an effective administrator.

Women wave flags and gesture in support of Imran Khan's party
Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party wave flags and chant in support of Mr Khan in Lahore.(Reuters: Mohsin Raza)

His first tasks would be to repair relations with the powerful military as well as the US, and tend to a stuttering economy.

Some analysts said navigating major political and economic hurdles with a united front would be a challenge for the new coalition, which comprises several diverse political parties.

“There are going to be divisions and divergences within the key coalition partners,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, a senior fellow at think tank Tabadlab, adding the first likely hurdle would be the rising fuel prices in the coming days.

“They are going to face both internal resistance within the coalition and possibly even criticism by coalition members and that will be in the first few days, not even weeks,” he added.

Reuters / AP

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