Pakistan’s Supreme Court says Prime Minister Imran Khan’s move to dissolve parliament was illegal and ordered the house be restored.
The decision on Thursday came after four days of hearings by the top court. Khan will now face a no-confidence vote by lawmakers that he had tried to sidestep. The assembly will likely convene to vote on Saturday.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
A major political crisis was triggered when Khan and his allies thwarted the motion by opposition lawmakers that seemed certain to unseat him.
The move “is declared to be contrary to the constitution and of no legal effect and is set aside”, the court ruled.
Khan dissolved parliament on Sunday and set the stage for early elections after accusing the opposition of being part of a “foreign conspiracy” to remove him from power.
His opponents had garnered the 172 votes needed to oust him in the 342-seat house after several members of his own party and a key coalition partner defected. But the deputy speaker of parliament, a member of Khan’s party, threw out the no-confidence motion.
The opposition claimed Khan violated the constitution and took its case to the country’s top court.
‘Victory for the nation’
Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial read out the decision and said the steps taken for the formation of a caretaker government ahead of elections were also unconstitutional.
“It is declared that all actions initiated … for purposes of holding a general election to elect a new assembly – including but not limited to the appointment of a caretaker prime minister and cabinet – are of no legal effect and are hereby quashed,” the court decision said.
Opposition leaders came out of the court showing victory signs as supporters shouted vociferously.
“I congratulate the entire nation,” said Maulana Fazalur Rehman, chief of the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). “This is the victory of the constitution and the entire nation.”
Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif told reporters it was a landmark day for the country.
“The Supreme Court has given a verdict which has not only safeguarded the constitution but Pakistan,” said Sharif.
‘We are very confident’
Lawyer for the opposition Haider Zaman Qureshi predicted a change of government was coming soon.
“When the [no-confidence] motion is carried forward … we are very confident that we have the numbers and we will succeed,” Qureshi told Al Jazeera.
“We will have a coalition government of the opposition forces and we will build bridges, and we will take Pakistan out of this economic meltdown that this outgoing government brought us.”
Science Minister Shibli Faraz told Al Jazeera that Khan and his allies accepted the verdict because they believe in the rule of law.
“Being the member of the cabinet and belonging to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, obviously we are quite sad to hear the decision made by the Supreme Court,” said Faraz.
“[But] this is actually one thing that our party has been fighting for. And we think the rule of law – or the lack of it – is the main reason for the predicament of our country.”
‘Massive economic meltdown’
Earlier on Thursday, the fourth day of hearings, Khan’s lawyers defended the controversial move and said the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to intervene in parliamentary affairs.
Khan said the opposition had gone too far by colluding with the United States for “regime change”. He said Washington wants him gone because of what he describes as his independent foreign policy, which often favours China and Russia.
The US Department of State has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics.
The standoff threw the country of 220 million people into a full-blown constitutional crisis, and sent its currency to all-time lows against the dollar on Thursday.
“As [the] dollar continues to soar, a massive economic meltdown is staring the country in the face,” Sharif, who is among the favourites to replace Khan as prime minister, said in a tweet.
Pakistan’s top court or its powerful military have consistently stepped in whenever turmoil engulfs a democratically elected government in the South Asian nation. The army has seized power and ruled for more than half of Pakistan’s 75-year history.
Q Zaman contributed to this report from Islamabad