Pakistan's PM wins vote of confidence after Senate setback

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FILE - In this March 16, 2020 file photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan. Prime Minister Khan handily won a vote of confidence from the National Assembly on Saturday, March 6, 2021, days after the embarrassing defeat of his ruling partys key candidate in Senate elections. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash, File)

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan handily won a vote of confidence from the National Assembly on Saturday, days after the embarrassing defeat of his ruling party’s key candidate in Senate elections.

Khan secured the votes of 178 members of the lower house of Parliament, which is comprised of 340 lawmakers. The 11-party opposition alliance — the Pakistan Democratic Movement —boycotted the assembly’s special session.

Khan needed 172 votes to show a simple majority and dispel any suggestion he had lost the support of the majority of lawmakers in the National Assembly.

In the National Assembly, Pakistan's lower house, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party has the support of 180 members, including 157 members from Khan's party and 20 members from allied parties and two independents.

The need for the confidence vote arose after former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in Senate elections Wednesday defeated Hafeez Sheikh, the finance minister in Khan’s Cabinet.

The Senate vote was seen as a test for Khan, who came to power in the 2018 parliamentary elections. It boosted the number of Senate seats for the opposition, which has a slight, 53-47 majority over Khan and wants Khan to step down.

Responding to the opposition demand, Khan decided to seek the vote of confidence, noting that it was the democratic right of lawmakers from his own party to vote against him if they oppose his policies.

Frustrated over the defeat of Sheikh, Khan criticized election authorities who he said failed to ensure a free and fair vote. Earlier, he claimed that 15 or 16 lawmakers from his party “sold” their vote but they could not be identified because the vote is done by secret ballot.

“In August 2018 Imran Khan got 176 votes to become prime minister and today he secured 178 votes to show his majority in the house,” said Asad Qaiser, the speaker of the lower house, after the vote.

Khan said his party members went through agony after the Senate vote but now he wants to make the country great.

“We have to apprise our young generation about the purpose of the creation of Pakistan,“ he said. “Pakistan was created to make a welfare Islamic state and not made to generate politicians like (former president Asif) Zardari and (former Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif, who have been accused of corruption.

The resolution of confidence was presented to the assembly by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Members who voted in favor of Khan signed a register and then entered the Parliament building lobby.

Outside Parliament, opposition leaders from the former ruling party Pakistan Muslim League argued heatedly with Khan’s supporters.