Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, has won a vote of confidence from the national assembly, securing 180 votes against the 172 required to achieve a simple majority in the lower house of parliament. The move comes after persistent opposition calls for a general election and is a major victory for the country’s governing coalition. The vote took place three days after the government denied reports that Sharif was planning to seek a vote of confidence. In a surprise move, lawmakers gathered in the assembly hall in the capital, Islamabad, where Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari moved a resolution for the vote after a luncheon thrown by the prime minister on Thursday afternoon.
Sharif thanked his party members and allies for supporting him and said: “This parliament elected me as the prime minister. If it reaches a decision after debate and obliges the government and cabinet, then it is mandatory for me to respect its decision. It is mandatory for me to stand by them.” The show of force by the governing coalition is a setback to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, which has been trying to force early elections. Pakistan is expected to hold a general vote in October.
In January, Khan dissolved the local assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, which were both under his party’s control, in a political manoeuvre aimed at pushing the government to hold the polls sooner. Pakistan’s constitution requires elections to be held within 90 days upon the dissolution of an assembly. Traditionally, the polls for provincial and national assemblies take place together. After a prolonged legal battle and back-and-forth on dates, the Supreme Court announced on 4 April that the provincial elections in Punjab must take place on 14 May.
However, the government has continued insisting that the elections must be held on the same date, citing what it said were the shortage of financial resources and the country’s deteriorating security situation. Earlier on Thursday, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial urged the government and the PTI to negotiate over the election date. “Please, for the sake of the constitution, sit with each other,” the top judge remarked during a hearing on holding polls in Punjab, the country’s most populous province. “The court cannot force [political parties] for a dialogue. The court only wants implementation on the constitution so that the dispute is resolved,” Bandial said.
Sharif, in his address to parliament, touched upon the matter of negotiations and said his government had agreed to invite the PTI for talks even though some of his coalition partners were not in favour of it. “Despite their reservations, we convinced them that there was no harm in holding talks … and we will hopefully initiate talks today,” he said, adding that the sole item on the agenda would be holding elections on the “same day”. Later on Thursday, the PTI announced that a three-member negotiating team consisting of senior party leaders Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhry and Ali Zafar would meet a government delegation.