Pakistan’s top court began hearing arguments on Monday on the legality of Prime Minister Imran Khan calling a general election after his party blocked a no-confidence vote and he dissolved parliament to prevent an opposition attempt to oust him.
Khan, a former cricket star, lost his majority in parliament last week as his opponents built support in advance of the vote of no-confidence that had been due on Sunday.
But the deputy speaker of parliament, a member of Khan’s party, threw out the no-confidence motion that Khan had widely been expected to lose, ruling it was part of a foreign conspiracy and unconstitutional.
The standoff has thrown the nuclear-armed nation, which the military has ruled for almost half its history since independence in 1947, into a full-blown constitutional crisis.
Whatever the Supreme Court decides, Pakistan looks to be heading for fresh elections before the completion of the current term of the parliament and the prime minister in 2023.
If Khan prevails, polls will happen within 90 days. The opposition also wants early elections, albeit after delivering a political defeat to Khan by ousting him through a parliamentary vote.
Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif called the blocking of the vote “nothing short of high treason.”
Khan also dissolved the cabinet and wants a general election within 90 days, although that decision officially rests with the president and the election commission, and depends on the outcome of the court hearing.
But whether elections will happen depends largely on the outcome of the legal proceedings, which began with a five-member Supreme Court bench hearing arguments in a packed courtroom.
The Supreme Court could order that parliament be reconstituted, call for a new election, or bar Khan from standing again if he is found to have acted unconstitutionally.
The court could also decide that it cannot intervene in parliamentary affairs.
Khan says he did not act unconstitutionally, calling the move to oust him a plot orchestrated by the United States – a claim Washington denies.