Pakistan’s Supreme Court Wednesday adjourned without deciding whether the blocking of an opposition-tabled no-confidence vote in parliament to oust embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan was in line with the country’s constitution.
The five-judge panel of the highest court, led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, will reconvene Thursday when it is likely to conclude the hearing and announce a verdict.
The legal proceedings stemmed from Sunday’s special session of the 342-member National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, where lawmakers were set to vote on the no-confidence motion that Khan was expected to lose.
Khan, the 69-year-old former cricket star, had lost his majority in the run-up to the vote after some two dozen lawmakers from his ruling party defected and key coalition partners abandoned the government to join the opposition.
However, Deputy Speaker Qasim Shah Suri, a member of the ruling party, blocked the no-confidence motion, calling it unlawful for having been sponsored by a “foreign power” to bring down the Pakistani government.
Suri prorogued the session after announcing his ruling amid strong protests by opposition lawmakers. Pakistani President Arif Alvi, swiftly acting on Khan’s advice, dissolved the parliament and called fresh elections in 90 days, citing constitution provisions.
The disputed moves threw the nuclear-armed South Asian nation of 220 million people into a political crisis and prompted the Supreme Court to immediately launch a hearing to determine their legitimacy.
Khan has alleged repeatedly that the United States conspired with the opposition to topple his government to punish him for his recent visit to Russia and for not supporting the West in condemning President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.
Pakistani opposition leaders have ridiculed the charges and Washington vehemently rejected them.
“There is absolutely no truth to the allegations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated to reporters on Monday when asked if the U.S. was behind an effort to oust Khan.
“We do not support one political party over another. We support the broader principles, the principles of rule of law, of equal justice under the law,” Price added.
Khan has been a strong critic of the two decades of U.S.-led foreign military intervention in neighboring Afghanistan, which ended with the withdrawal of international troops and the return of the Islamist Taliban to power last August.
On Wednesday, President Alvi instructed election authorities to propose a date for the general election even as the court considers the legality of the house ruling and the moves ensuing from it.
“In order to carry out the mandate of the constitution of announcing the date of general elections, consultation with the Election Commission is required,” said a presidential statement.
Alvi used his constitutional authority Monday to allow Khan to work as an interim chief executive until a caretaker prime minister was appointed in consultation with the opposition leadership to supervise the election.
Pakistan’s powerful military has distanced itself from the political crisis.
Previous political crises in Pakistan have prompted the military to seize power on three occasions, leading to prolonged dictatorial rules, which critics blame for the fragility of the country’s democracy.
Khan admitted ahead of Sunday’s no-confidence vote that the army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, offered to help resolve the political turmoil.
The prime minister praised Bajwa’s initiative, saying the two agreed on holding snap elections in Pakistan, but the opposition rejected the offer and instead went for what Khan denounced as the “foreign-funded” no-confidence vote against him.
While the opposition and many legal experts have denounced the speaker’s ruling as an extra-constitutional step, government attorneys defended the move as legal and argued Pakistan’s constitution bars the judiciary from intervening in parliamentary proceedings.
“The constitution unambiguously states that the parliament cannot intervene in judicial proceedings,” Ali Zafar, who is representing Alvi’s actions, explained to reporters at the end of the hearing Wednesday.
“Similarly, the court cannot interfere in internal proceedings and business of the parliament,” Zafar stressed.
The senior attorney said he underscored the separation of constitutional powers in his arguments and cautioned the judges that if they start monitoring parliamentary affairs there would be no end to it.