The Pakistani parliament has elected opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif as the new prime minister after a walkout by ousted Imran Khan’s party.
Members of Mr Khan’s Pakistan Justice Party resigned collectively just ahead of the vote on Monday. More than 100 of them walked out of the National Assembly.
The walkout followed an impassioned speech by Mr Khan’s ally, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who defended Mr Khan, lauding what he described as his independence and refusal to bow to US pressure. “We boycott this election according to the decision of our party, and we are resigning,” Mr Qureshi said.
After the walkout, opposition legislators voted on the new prime minister with Mr Sharif as the only contender. He is the brother of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Mr Khan, a former cricket star, was ousted early on Sunday after losing a no-confidence vote in Parliament which saw him pushed out with 174 votes — two more than the required simple majority in the 342-seat National Assembly.
On Sunday Mr Qureshi had said that many legislators in Mr Khan’s party were contemplating resigning from Parliament after Monday’s vote for prime minister.
In a show of strength, Mr Khan rallied hundreds of thousands of supporters late on Sunday to protest his ousting, and describing the next government as an “imposed government.” In cities across Pakistan, Mr Khan’s supporters marched, waving large party flags and vowing support.
Mr Khan has also demanded early elections, though the balloting is not due before August 2023. He has tapped into anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, accusing Washington of conspiring with his opponents to topple him. His conspiracy theory resonates with his young support base, which often sees Washington’s post 9/11 war on terror as unfairly targeting Pakistan.
On April 3 Mr Khan sidestepped an initial no-confidence vote demanded by the opposition by dissolving Parliament and calling early elections. The opposition, which accuses Mr Khan of economic mismanagement, appealed to the Supreme Court.
After four days of deliberations, the court ordered Parliament to be re-instated and the no-confidence vote went ahead. After a marathon Parliament session that started on Saturday and that also saw the resignation of parliament speaker, Asad Qaiser, Mr Khan was ousted early Sunday.
Mr Khan claims the opposition colluded with Washington to topple him, allegedly because of his independent foreign policy favouring China and Russia. He was also criticised for a visit he made on February 24 to Moscow, where he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.
The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics.
The two largest parties are the Pakistan Muslim League, headed by Mr Sharif, and the Pakistan People’s Party, co-chaired by the son and husband of assassinated ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Nawaz Sharif was unseated by the Supreme Court in 2015 after being convicted in connection with financial irregularities revealed in the so-called Panama Papers — a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest hide their money and involving a global law firm based in Panama. He was disqualified by Pakistan’s Supreme Court from holding office.
Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s husband who served as president of Pakistan after the 2008 elections, has spent more than seven years in prison, convicted on corruption charges. Both families have dismissed corruption allegations against them as being politically motivated.
Mr Khan came to power in 2018, promising to break family rule in Pakistan but his opponents claimed he won the elections with help from the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of the country’s 75-year history.
Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted in 1999 in a military coup and Benazir Bhutto’s government was ousted several times after the military sided with her opposition.
Shahbaz Sharif has served three times as chief minister of Pakistan’s largest, most influential Punjab province, where 60% of the country’s 220 million people live. His son Hamza was elected by the Punjab provincial parliament last week as new chief minister, ousting Mr Khan’s nominee. Mr Khan’s party is challenging that election and the younger Sharif has yet to be sworn in.