Pakistan’s leader Imran Khan is ‘100% in trouble,’ says key ally

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FILE PHOTO: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an international conference on the future of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, organized by Pakistan and the UN Refugee Agency in Islamabad, Pakistan February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is on the verge of losing its majority in Parliament as three key allies are about to quit his cabinet, a top leader from a party supporting the government said, making the backing of the country’s strong army crucial for his survival.

The exit of the alliance partners would shore up support for the opposition in a no-confidence vote slated for later this month in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid party brings the support of five members in the lower house, said in an interview with Hum News TV Tuesday.

“It’s up to Imran Khan now to personally reach out to his allied parties and convince them to stay in the coalition government,” Elahi said. Otherwise, “he is 100% in trouble.” He said many within Khan’s party were also unhappy with his performance and may vote against him.

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Elahi said his Muslim League-Quaid and Balochistan Awami Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, which have 17 seats between them in the 342-member National Assembly, will soon jointly announce their decision on staying with the government. Khan’s slender seven-seat majority depends on the support of the three smaller allies.

The latest development comes as opposition groups have asked for a no-confidence vote against the premier, pushing to oust him about 18 months short of his five-year term. They blame him for mismanaging the economy and foreign policy. He’s appointed four finance ministers and about half a dozen finance secretaries since 2018.

Plagued by the second-fastest-growing inflation in Asia, Khan recently cut domestic energy prices to pacify public anger, despite agreeing with the International Monetary Fund to do the opposite.

Some government ministers have said the vote could take place between March 28-30. However, the speaker of the lower house hasn’t fixed a date yet.

Khan has said his majority is intact and that he will “surprise” the opposition parties, who won’t be able to cobble together the 172 votes needed to remove him from power.

Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled the country for almost half its history and has been a behind-the-scenes player even during times of democratically elected governments, could hold the answers to Khan’s political survival.

So far, Khan was said to have the support of the military, which helped him survive previous demands for his resignation by the opposition. However, there are indications that might be changing.

“The army is not neutral and rather has withdrawn its support to Imran Khan,” said Shaista Tabassum, a former chairwoman of the international relations department at the University of Karachi. That is why the opposition is coming with such an unprecedented force, she added.

Some statements and decisions by the prime minister must have displeased the army, Tabassum said, without indicating what those might be.

Local media has reported Khan’s relations with the army soured in October when differences between the premier and the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa grew over the appointment of the country’s new spy chief.

Khan and the army have denied any previous behind-the-scenes maneuvers to prop his government.

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