Imran Khan survived an attempt to oust him as Pakistan’s prime minister on Sunday, after a no-confidence vote was blocked in Parliament by the deputy speaker.
Khan, who is facing the toughest challenge of his political career, requested the country’s president dissolve Parliament and called on the nation to prepare for a fresh election.
Khan had been set to lose the no-confidence motion, which was backed by an alliance of politicians – including more than a dozen defectors from Khan’s own political party. But in a dramatic reprieve for the embattled leader, the vote was blocked as “unconstitutional” by the deputy speaker.
For months, Khan has been battling depleting foreign exchange reserves and double digit inflation, with the cost of basic necessities such as food and fuel skyrocketing.
Following the vote, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said Khan will now continue with his responsibilities under Article 224 of the country’s constitution. But with no real precedent for Sunday’s chain of events, it remains somewhat unclear as to what happens next.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, one of the leaders of the opposition, called Khan’s move “unconstitutional,” adding the matter will be taken up by the Supreme Court.
Pakistan’s main opposition parties have been rallying for Khan’s dismissal since he rose to power in 2018 after a dramatic election mired in accusations of vote rigging and foul play.
As frustration with Khan’s leadership grew, the opposition filed a motion to hold a no-confidence vote in Parliament, accusing him of mismanaging the country’s economy and foreign policy.
They had urged Khan to resign ahead of the vote. Khan retaliated by calling them “traitors” and repeatedly emphasized his desire to fight against the vote.
Khan’s perceived failure to work in tandem with his allies, as well as country’s powerful military, had led to a breakdown of relations within his coalition government.
Khan had previously appealed to defecting lawmakers to return to his party, promising they would be forgiven “like a father forgives his children.” He warned that those who voted against him would face social disgrace, saying no one would marry their children.
Khan had called on his supporters in the nation of 220 million to rally in the streets of the capital, Islamabad, on Sunday in protest of the proposed vote. Security has increased around the city, with police patrolling the streets. The city’s red zone, where government and military buildings are located, is sealed off with shipping containers.
Last week, tens of thousands of people gathered at the city’s iconic Parade Ground, chanting slogans in favor of Khan, a former international cricket star turned politician.
No Pakistani leader has completed a full five-year term as prime minister since the country’s formation in 1947. There are now concerns Khan’s move to call an early election could risk further political instability in the South Asian nation.