Pakistan’s Supreme Court has blocked a bid by Prime Minister Imran Khan to stay in power, ruling on April 7 that a move to stymie a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly was unconstitutional.
Khan and his allies had tried to sidestep a no-confidence motion that seemed certain to unseat him by dissolving parliament.
A five-judge panel unanimously ruled on April 7 that the move breached the country’s constitution and ordered parliament to be restored. Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial released the short decision, calling the April 3 ruling by the deputy speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, unconstitutional.
Before the Supreme Court ruling was announced, security was beefed up at the court and heavily armed police were deployed outside the building. After the ruling was announced, opposition supporters in the capital, Islamabad, raced through the streets sounding their car horns.
The court also ordered the speaker of parliament to hold the next meeting on April 9 to vote on the no-confidence motion. If the opposition wins, there will be a vote for a new prime minister.
Under the law, elections must be held within three months of the dissolution of the National Assembly. But the election commission said in a letter to the president that it would not be possible to hold elections until October.
Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), welcomed the ruling as a victory for “justice and the supremacy of law.”
Sharif told a news conference that his allies had nominated him as the next prime minister if the opposition manages to vote Khan out.
Khan said he would continue to fight and scheduled an address to the nation on April 8.
"I have always & will continue to fight for Pak till the last ball," the former cricket star said on Twitter.
Khan lost his parliamentary majority last week and had faced the no-confidence vote brought forward by a united opposition. But the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Qasim Suri, a member of Khan’s Tehrik-e Insaf party, rejected the motion as unconstitutional, saying it was part of a foreign conspiracy.
The ruling allowed Khan to get the presidency -- a largely ceremonial role -- to dissolve parliament. The opposition then filed a petition to the Supreme Court to rule on whether the move to block the vote was constitutional.
The decision said Khan had no right to advise the president on the dissolution of the assembly.
“It's an unfortunate decision,” Khan's ally and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told AP. He warned that “instability will increase, and I see no end to the crisis.”
Khan has accused the United States of manipulating the opposition because of his warm relations with Russia and China. The U.S. State Department has denied the allegations.