Pakistan’s prime minister says he is seeking fresh vote of confidence to prevent opposition from trying to pressure him into giving them amnesty
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday confirmed he was seeking a fresh vote of confidence from the National Assembly, and lashed out at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for “saving criminals with secret ballot” and “harming democracy.”
Stressing that it was the democratic right of all parliamentarians to cast their vote in line with their conscience, the prime minister told the public in a nationally televised address that he was ready to sit in the opposition if his party members were dissatisfied with his performance. “I will respect your decision,” he claimed, while simultaneously warning those who had voted against him in secret that they would have to answer to God in the afterlife.
Khan commenced his speech by claiming that it was necessary for him to inform the public about the prevailing political situation after his candidate for Islamabad’s general Senate seat, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, lost to the united opposition’s Yousaf Raza Gilani. “The problems in our country can be understood through the kind of election that happened,” he claimed, reiterating that he had only learnt of the extent of money being spent to secure Senate seats when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf took part in the 2015 polls.
“This has been going on for 30-40 years,” he said, adding that this was making a mockery of democracy. He said he had launched his campaign for an end to secret balloting at the time and reiterated how he had expelled 20 MPAs from Khyber-Pakhtunkwha in 2018 after discovering that they had taken bribes to vote against party lines.
Lamenting that the opposition had not supported the government’s move for an open ballot despite promising to implement it in their Charter of Democracy, he questioned why they had rejected the measure so vigorously. “These parties wanted an open ballot before; why did they all now push for secret ballot?” he said, adding that the only reason was because the Pakistan Democratic Movement wanted to “use money” to secure Gilani’s election to “prove” that he had lost the majority in Parliament.
“So the real objective was to hang the sword of vote of confidence over me and blackmail me into somehow giving them NRO,” he said. Despite devoting an entire speech to the loss, he also lashed out at the opposition for behaving as if it had “won a major battle” despite the PTI emerging as the single-largest party in the Senate.
In a direct message to the ECP, the premier used his speech to deride the independent body for informing the Supreme Court that the secret ballot was a legal and constitutional requirement. “Tell me does any Constitution give permission for stealing or giving bribes, which is what has happened for 30 years?” he said, ignoring entirely that the ECP had specially said a constitutional amendment was needed to ensure open balloting.
Referring to the top court’s legal opinion guiding the ECP to use technology to ensure transparency in the Senate elections, he said that if that had been implemented, the PTI would have been easily able to identify the members “who were sold.”
“You protected these criminals through secret ballot, you have damaged our democracy,” he ranted to the ECP. “Tell me what kind of democracy is this that one becomes a senator after giving money; is this democracy?” The prime minister also claimed that this was sending the “wrong message” to the youth of Pakistan, who
Referring to a 2018 video that showed members of the PTI putting money in bags, he questioned why the ECP had not investigated the alleged rigging. He said he had warned prior to the Senate polls that rates were being set for lawmakers and the ECP was aware it would happen. “When you were given the opportunity by the Supreme Court to implement barcodes, why couldn’t you do so for 1,500 ballots?” he said. “You gave a complete opportunity to discredit the country’s democracy [and] damaged the country’s morality and values,” he added.
Emphasizing that corruption could only be eliminated from a society through joint national efforts, he blamed the country for accepting “dacoits” in Parliament. “Is it Imran Khan’s responsibility alone to go after them? This is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. “This is on you, do you want to take your country up or do you want to compromise with these thieves? We are here today because we accepted stealing and accepted thieves,” he added.
Threats to PDM
In a direct address to the leadership of the PDM, the prime minister warned that if he was ousted, it would not have any difference to his demands for accountability. “There will be no difference in my life if I’m not in power, but I have a message for all of you: whether I sit in opposition or am even outside of the assembly, I will not leave anyone of you until you return this country’s money,” he said, claiming that the public would join him on the streets.
“I will show you how to bring the public out, it makes no difference to my life,” he said, vowing to continue fighting for the supremacy of law.
During his speech, the prime minister reiterated his claims of the “corrupt” opposition uniting after he came into power to pressure the government into abandoning the cases against them. “All of them have one interest: to exert so much pressure on me that I raise my hands and, like Gen. Musharraf, give them an NRO and end their corruption cases,” he said.
Khan alleged the opposition had been trying to “blackmail” him over the 2018 elections, the coronavirus crisis, and even legislation required to fulfill the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
“We are not a poor country. God has given us everything, but no country can progress when the powerful sitting above are taking its money out,” he said, claiming that Pakistan was a “respected” country 50 years ago before corrupt practices set in.