The removal of Imran Khan as prime minister has set Pakistan on an uncertain political path, with his supporters taking to the streets in protest as the opposition prepares to install his replacement.
Khan was brought down early on Sunday morning after 174 legislators in the 342-seat National Assembly – some belonging to his party and coalition – voted in a no-confidence motion moved by the opposition to depose him, two more than the required simple majority.
Khan is the first Pakistani prime minister to be thrown out of office by a no-confidence vote during a 13-hour parliamentary session that included repeated delays and lengthy speeches by legislators from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
On Sunday night, tens of thousands of Khan supporters marched in cities across Pakistan, waving large party flags and shouting slogans, after the end of the daily dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The youth, who make up the backbone of Khan’s supporters, dominated the crowds.
In the southern Arabian Sea port city of Karachi, more than 20,000 people shouted slogans promising Khan’s return to power.
In capital Islamabad, the lights from thousands of supporters lit up the night sky as Khan made his way through the crowd atop a brightly coloured truck.
“Never have such crowds come out so spontaneously and in such numbers in our history,” Khan posted on his Twitter account on Sunday night.
Never have such crowds come out so spontaneously and in such numbers in our history, rejecting the imported govt led by crooks. pic.twitter.com/YWrvD1u8MM
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 10, 2022
Fahd Husain, columnist for Pakistan’s English-language Dawn newspaper, said Imran Khan’s “political rise was fuelled by a growing disillusionment of a large segment of the urban middle class with the traditional politics” of the opposition parties, mainly the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party.
“The greater their disgust with stories of corruption and misgovernance, the more they gravitated towards the unsullied persona of Khan,” he told Al Jazeera.
The supporters of the cricket star-turned-politician accused the United States of orchestrating his removal and his party walked out of parliament shortly before the no-confidence vote.
Khan had clung on for almost a week after a united opposition first tried to depose him. His removal came after days of drama and often vitriolic remarks in and outside parliament.
On Sunday, the 69-year-old politician repeated allegations that a foreign conspiracy was behind the change of government.
“The freedom struggle begins again today,” Khan tweeted to his more than 15 million followers.
Khan has claimed the US worked behind the scenes to bring him down, purportedly because of Washington’s displeasure over his independent foreign policy choices, which often favour China and Russia.
He has occasionally defied the US and stridently criticised its post-9/11 war on terror. Khan said the US was deeply disturbed by his visit to Russia and his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 24, the day the devastating war in Ukraine started.
The US State Department has denied his allegations.
Opposition prepares replacement
Khan’s removal came amid his cooling relations with the powerful military and an economy struggling with high inflation and a plummeting Pakistani rupee. The opposition has charged Khan’s government with economic mismanagement.
Shehbaz Sharif heads the largest party in a diverse alliance of opposition factions that span the spectrum from the left to radically religious.
Khan’s nominee for prime minister will be his foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Former Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday told reporters of the plan for resignations if their nominee does not win.
The speaker would be obliged to accept those resignations that would necessitate by-elections in probably more than 100 seats. 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.
The Pakistan Election Commission, which oversees polls, told the Supreme Court last week it had still to finish realigning constituencies in line with the results of a 2017 census before polls could be held.
General elections in Pakistan are not scheduled before August 2023.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, predicted a turbulent time ahead for Pakistan.
“Khan’s defeat would also leave Pakistan a bitterly partisan and divided place. He has not only intensified political rivalries, he has also defied and alienated key entities like the army chief and Pakistan’s foreign office,” said Kugelman.
“It will take time for the country to pick up the pieces, and the coming months will be politically turbulent.”