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Former Pakistan PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was trying to create more pressure on the government, experts said on Sunday, as he announced his party was quitting the country’s regional and national assemblies.

Khan was removed in a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April.

The former cricket star turned politician is now in the opposition and has since held several anti-government rallies and demanded early elections, frequently claiming that his ouster was part of a US-backed “foreign conspiracy,” accusations denied by Washington and Khan’s opponents who are now in power.

The leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party on Saturday made his first public appearance since being wounded in a gun attack earlier this month, when he called off a protest march that began from the eastern city of Lahore and was set to culminate in Islamabad.

He also announced that his party was quitting the country’s regional and national assemblies, telling tens of thousands of cheering supporters that the PTI was getting out of a “corrupt system.”

The announcement was a new move taken after months of calling for early elections, which saw Khan’s narrative “getting weaker due to repetition,” said political analyst Dr. Huma Baqai.

“Economy is the main concern of all, and after mass resignations by the PTI, the situation will further deteriorate and put the government on the back foot and can force them to announce early elections,” she added.

Pakistan, faced with high inflation and dwindling foreign reserves, has been battling an economic crisis exacerbated by devastating floods that killed more than 1,700 people.

The former attorney-general of Pakistan also said the latest political development “can build pressure” on the current government.

“But they tried it in the national assembly but did not succeed. It is a matter of wits and how long the government can sustain pressure,” Anwar Mansoor Khan told Arab News.

PTI lawmakers resigned from the national assembly en masse in April, ahead of a vote to elect a new premier after Khan was removed from office.

Khan’s decision could “create a lot of problems” for the federal government and was taken because of the recent change in military leadership, senior journalist Arifa Noor told Arab News.

“He wants to increase the pressure on the new army chief to make some decision in favor of his demand of calling early elections,” Noor said.

Pakistan named Lt. Gen. Asim Munir on Thursday as chief of its army, an organization that plays a major and influential role in the governance of the nuclear-armed nation. The appointment coincided with a dispute between Khan and the military, who the former premier blamed for playing a part in his ouster.

The PTI’s mass resignation was intended to “create the possibility of political disruption,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, told Arab News.

“By doing this he maintains pressure on the government and sends a message to the army as well that they should use their influence to prevent the possible disruption,” Mehboob said.

Khan, who said he called off his protest march because he feared it would cause havoc in the country, was “running out of options,” Mehboob added.

“Threat to resign from provincial assemblies is all he could do at this time to keep the momentum of his campaign.”

But there remain uncertainties with Khan’s announcement. Political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi told Arab News that, “resignations from the assemblies would not have the same effect as a dissolution.”

“PTI’s threat of the dissolution of the KP and Punjab assemblies would need to actually happen for it to actually challenge the federal government,” Zaidi said, alluding to the PTI’s stronghold in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the coalition government Khan has in Punjab with ally the Pakistan Muslim League (Q).

The former secretary of Pakistan’s election commission Kanwar Dilshad said Khan’s announcement was incomplete, as he had not clarified whether “he will dissolve assemblies or will just resign,” adding that each would have different consequences.

“Dissolution of assemblies can bring a real constitutional crisis and force the federal government to call early elections.”

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