ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying his move to dissolve Parliament and call early elections was illegal and ordering that the house be restored.
The decision came after four days of hearings by the top court over the major political crisis. Khan will now face a no-confidence vote by lawmakers — the vote that he had tried to sidestep. The assembly will likely convene to vote on Saturday.
The opposition has said it has 172 votes in the 342-seat house to oust Khan, after several members of his own party and a key coalition partner defected.
On Sunday, the embattled Khan dissolved Parliament and set the stage for early elections after accusing the opposition of working with the United States to remove him from power. His opponents had garnered the 172 votes needed to oust him in the 342-seat house,
During the week, the five-member bench of Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard arguments from Khan's lawyers, the opposition and the country’s president before handing down the decision late on Thursday evening, after iftar, the meal that breaks the daylong fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Khan said Washington wants him gone because of what he describes as his independent foreign policy, which often favors China and Russia. Khan has also been a strident critic of Washington's war on terror and was criticized for a visit to Moscow on Feb. 24, hours after Russian tanks crossed into Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan's internal politics. After dissolving Parliament, Khan went on national TV to announce early elections.
“This is the unfortunate fact about Pakistani politics — the political issues, which should be settled in the parliament are instead brought to the Supreme Court to settle,” said analyst Zahid Hussain, who has authored several books on militancy in the region and Islamabad's complicated relationship with Washington.
“It is just a weakness of the system,” Hussain added.
Pakistan's top court or its powerful military have consistently stepped in whenever turmoil engulfs a democratically elected government in Pakistan. The army has seized power and ruled for more than half of Pakistan's 75-year history.
The military has remained quiet over the latest crisis although army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa told a security summit in Islamabad over the weekend that Pakistan wants good relations with China, a major investor, and also with the United States, the country's largest export market.
The latest political chaos has spilled over into the country's largest province of Punjab, where 60% of Pakistan's 220 million people live and where Khan's ally for chief provincial minister was denied the post on Wednesday, after his political opposition voted in their own candidate.