Pakistan’s prime minister said Thursday he will seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly this weekend to prove that he still has the support of majority lawmakers in the house despite the surprising and politically embarrassing defeat of his ruling party’s key candidate in Senate elections.
Prime Minister Imran Khan made the announcement in a televised address to the nation, alleging that some lawmakers from his ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party had been bribed by the opposition to vote for former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in the Senate elections on Wednesday.
Gilani defeated Hafeez Sheikh, the finance minister in Khan’s Cabinet, in the vote, which was seen as a test for Khan who came to power in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Sheikh lost the hotly contested seat in the Senate, or upper house of parliament. The vote went 169-164 in Gilani’s favor.
Though Khan improved his standing in the 100-member Senate, Sheikh’s defeat was a setback for his government and the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Votes for the Senate are cast by members of the National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament, and four provincial assemblies.
Gilani’s success in the Senate indicates that some of the ruling party’s lawmakers had rebelled and did not vote for Sheikh. Pakistan’s opposition has asked that Khan step down over Sheikh’s defeat, a demand ejected by Khan’s party, which insists he still has the backing of majority lawmakers.
“I have decided to seek the vote of confidence” from the lower house of parliament on Saturday, Khan said. He said it was the democratic right of lawmakers from his own party to vote against him if they oppose his policies.
“You can say you are not with me, I will (still) respect you,” Khan said.
He accused the country’s election authorities of failing to ensure a free and fair vote for the Senate and claimed that 15 or 16 lawmakers from his party “sold” their vote in the Senate elections but that they could not be identified because the vote was a secret ballot.
Khan also chastised the Election Commission for opposing his proposal last month to hold Senate elections in an open ballot, instead of having lawmakers secretly cast their vote for a candidate of their choice.
Khan insisted the confidence vote in the National Assembly on Saturday be open and while he said lawmakers from his party had the democratic right to vote for or against him, in line with their conscience, but that they should do it openly.
Khan needs 172 votes in the 342-seat assembly to retain the confidence of the house. If no one revolts against him, he is expected to win as many as 180 votes in his favor, with the help of allies from other parties.
If he fails to win the vote of confidence, his government automatically falls — something that could usher in another phase of political turmoil for Pakistan. Khan pledged to sit on the opposition if that happens and promised he would continue to fight against corruption.
Earlier Thursday, Pakistan’s minister for science and technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said that senators are also expected to vote in the coming days on a new chairman of the Senate. He said the incumbent, Sadiq Sanjrani, is to be the ruling party’s candidate again.
Gilani is likely to contest the vote for the chairman. He served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012 when the Supreme Court disqualified him in a contempt case. Khan said Gilani was disqualified for failing to demand Swiss authorities bring back money deposited in banks of Switzerland by his party’s leadership.