ISLAMABAD — (AP) — Pakistan’s top court began hearing arguments on Monday over whether Prime Minister Imran Khan and his allies had the legal right to dissolve parliament and set the stage for a snap election. .
The opposition disputes the latest moves by Khan, a former cricketer turned conservative Islamist leader who came to power in 2018, saying it is a ploy by Khan to stay in power.
The Supreme Court began Monday to hear arguments from the legal team of Khan and his allies, as well as the opposition, but then adjourned until noon Tuesday.
There was no immediate explanation for the adjournment, nor was it known when a decision would be made. Muslim-majority Pakistan observes the holy month of Ramadan, when worshipers fast from dawn to dusk
On Sunday, Khan’s ally and deputy speaker of Pakistan’s parliament, Qasim Suri, dissolved the assembly to avoid a no-confidence vote that Khan seemed certain to lose. The opposition says the vice president had no constitutional authority to reject the vote of no confidence.
The developments marked the latest in a growing dispute between Khan and the opposition, which has been backed by defectors from the prime minister’s own party, Tehreek-e-Insaf or Justice Party, and a former coalition partner , the Muttahida Quami movement, which had joined the ranks of the opposition. The opposition claims it had the numbers to oust Khan in parliament. He also accused him of economic mismanagement.
The current political conundrum is in many ways uncharted territory, even for Pakistan, where successive governments have been overthrown by a powerful military and others ousted before the end of their term.
The most important decision before the Supreme Court is whether Suri, the vice president, had the constitutional power to overturn the vote of no confidence, according to constitutional lawyer Ali Zafar.
Zafar told The Associated Press that the court must also decide whether it even has the power to rule on the case. Khan’s party insists that the actions of a speaker of parliament are privileged and cannot be challenged in court.
If the court decides the vice president was irrelevant, parliament will reconvene and hold the no-confidence vote on Khan, legal experts say. If the court upholds the latest actions, Pakistan is heading for a snap election.
The opposition says it has the 172 votes in the 342-seat assembly to oust Khan. After Suri rejected the no-confidence motion on Sunday, the information minister and another Khan ally, Fawad Chaudhry, accused the opposition of plotting “regime change” with US backing.
Pakistan’s mighty military – which has directly ruled the country for more than half of its 75-year history – has remained silent through much of the infighting.
However, army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa on Sunday held off the army on US-backed plot allegations, saying Pakistan wanted good relations with China and the United States, the largest trading partner of Pakistan.
Khan, an outspoken critic of Washington’s war on terror and Pakistan’s partnership in that war, says the United States wants him gone because of his foreign policy choices and for refusing to push Pakistan away. of China and Russia.
However, Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, sees the latest political wrangling as just another “part of a recurring pattern in Pakistan of governments undermining the democratic process to maintain their grip on power. ”
This underscores a deeply polarized society, Kugelman added. While Khan’s supporters may think dissolving parliament was a “stroke of genius” to avoid a vote of no confidence, his critics “believe he acted recklessly and essentially pulled off a legal coup, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis”.
Meanwhile, Pakistani President Arif Alvi, another Khan ally, was ignoring Monday’s Supreme Court deliberations and pushing ahead with preparations for an interim government that would see Pakistan hold elections. According to the constitution, Khan would remain prime minister until an interim prime minister is appointed, Alvi said in a tweet.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report. Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at www:twitter.com/Kathygannon
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