Debate on the no-confidence motion is due to start on Thursday, leaving Pakistan PM Imran Khan scrambling to keep his own PTI members on side, as well as a slew of minority parties.

Imran Khan is facing the biggest challenge to his rule since being elected in 2018, with opponents accusing him of economic mismanagement and foreign-policy bungling.
Imran Khan is facing the biggest challenge to his rule since being elected in 2018, with opponents accusing him of economic mismanagement and foreign-policy bungling. (AFP)

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's future looks increasingly in doubt, with a key coalition partner switching allegiance ahead of a parliamentary no-confidence vote that could be held as early as this weekend.

On paper, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and allies have 176 seats in the 342-member assembly, but the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) said on Wednesday its seven lawmakers would vote with the opposition, which has a combined 163 seats.

Senior MQM leader Faisal Subzwari tweeted that his party had finalised an agreement with the opposition, led by the Pakistan People Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).

Debate on the no-confidence motion is due to start on Thursday, leaving Khan scrambling to keep his own PTI members on side — as well as a slew of minority parties.

More than a dozen PTI lawmakers have also indicated they will cross the floor, although party leaders are trying to get the courts to prevent them from voting.

In the past, Pakistan parties have resorted to physically preventing lawmakers from voting against key legislation by blocking access to the national assembly, leading to cat-and-mouse chases and even accusations of kidnapping.

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'Something unpredictable'

The PML-N and the PPP dominated national politics for decades until Khan forged a coalition against the usually feuding dynastic groups.

He was elected after promising to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism, but has struggled to maintain support with inflation skyrocketing, a feeble rupee and crippling debt.

Khan is facing the biggest challenge to his rule since being elected in 2018, with opponents accusing him of economic mismanagement and foreign-policy bungling. No prime minister in the country's history has seen out a full term.

Some analysts say Khan has also lost the crucial support of the military — claims both sides deny — and Pakistan's army is key to political power. There have been four military coups since independence in 1947.

If Khan loses the vote, a new government could be headed by the PML-N's Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has not returned since being released from jail in 2021 to get medical treatment abroad.

Also, the PPP's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and ex-President Asif Zardari, will likely get a senior role.

One card up Khan's sleeve would be to call an early election — the next one must be held before October 2023.

"The best option in this situation would have been fresh elections to enable the new government to handle economic, political and external problems faced by the country, " said political analyst Talat Masood, a retired general.

"The country is heading towards something unpredictable...where there is going to be a lot of chaos and problems."

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies