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Pakistan parliament holds a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Imran Khan

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Pakistan has been in a political crisis for nearly a week now, ever since the prime minister moved to dissolve Parliament and accused the opposition of helping to carry out what he called an American plot to overthrow his rule. The Supreme Court ruled this was unconstitutional and ruled Parliament should reconvene and hold that no-confidence vote. NPR's Diaa Hadid joins us from Islamabad. Diaa, thanks so much for being with us.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi there, Scott.

SIMON: And set this up for us, if you can, please. How did all of this come about?

HADID: Sure. So analysts here say the military, which is Pakistan's most powerful institution, seemed to withdraw its backing from the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The military denies it's involved in politics, but in all cases it was a signal to the opposition that they could try and make a bid for power. Last week, they got the numbers to push Khan from his position in a no-confidence motion. But just as that vote was meant to be held, the prime minister moved to dissolve Parliament. He said that vote was part of an American plot to overthrow him, and the opposition then appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled that Parliament had to reconvene. It's been a pretty dramatic week.

SIMON: Reconvene to hold that vote of no-confidence. So what happened today?

HADID: Right. So we raced to Parliament, and we found lawmakers hanging out. They were waiting for the speaker to arrive. One legislator brought sharpies and cardboard and was making signs, alluding to the opposition being traitors. It seems like Khan's MPs were basically buying time to delay the vote. Just as we left, the foreign minister began speaking. Now we've just learned that the prime minister will convene an emergency meeting of his cabinet this evening. So it looks like the vote won't happen until tomorrow, if it happens at all.

SIMON: If it happens at all? Well, if the opposition has the votes for a no-confidence vote, is it possible just to go to elections?

HADID: Well, yes and no. The prime minister and his allies do want to go to early elections. They want a fresh mandate. And have a listen here to the foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI: The only way to protect Pakistan from a constitutional crisis is to seek a fresh mandate from the people of Pakistan.

HADID: But it seems they don't want a no-confidence vote because they want to leave on a high.

SIMON: The opposition wants elections also, right?

HADID: Yes. But here's the interesting thing, and I think it's pretty understandable to people who live in a democracy. They say they want a few months to reform the electoral rules. They want to shut down avenues which they say the military has used to intervene in the voting in the past. Remember, the military denies any intervention like this. They say some districts need to be delineated. They're in very remote areas near the Afghan border. But their big concern is electronic voting booths. Khan's government said they could be used in the next election. But have a listen to Nafisa Shah. She is an opposition lawmaker from the PPP party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NAFISA SHAH: There was a genuine fear that this regime would use this forcibly passed law where they were going to bring in these machines to vote. There was a fear that this would lead to a rigging. So there was a consensus among the opposition that we must take power so as to do some course correction.

HADID: Now, interestingly, Pakistan runs one of the world's biggest biometric databases, so electronic voting is actually more possible here than it is in other countries. But it has a lot of implications for privacy laws and access to a citizen's voting record.

SIMON: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad, thanks so much.

HADID: Thanks, Scott, for making time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.