A PM no more: How the historic move to eject Imran Khan through a no-trust vote unfolded

Dawn.com takes a look at the series of events leading up Imran's ouster as premier though a no-confidence motion.
Published April 8, 2023

April 10 marks one year since PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s term as prime minister came to an unceremonious end following the then-opposition’s successful move to oust him through a no-confidence vote.

Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history to be removed by such a parliamentary vote.

Over the past year, the PTI chief has roared at the top of his lungs that he was ousted through a “foreign conspiracy” (a claim he has since dialled back on) and had demanded — and continues to do so — that elections take place in the country forthwith.

But how did it get to this point? Dawn.com takes a look at the series of events leading up to the no-confidence motion, and the final few days of the historic event that captivated the nation.


Rumblings of introducing a no-confidence motion against the 22nd prime minister began all the way back in 2021 with the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) — an alliance of opposition parties formed in 2020 — initially split over the exercise.

Interestingly, the PPP was the first to hint at such a move while the PML-N had declared it to be “impractical”.

But then a tear began to appear in the carefully crafted “one-page” narrative of the government and the military establishment — which critics have long accused of helping the PTI come into power in 2018.

In the last quarter of 2021, it emerged that Imran had dug in his heels over the appointment of the country’s new spymaster as he wanted Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, who has since retired, to continue in the role.

Day after day, government ministers assured the nation that nothing was amiss behind the scenes as rumours ran rampant about the impasse between the civil and military leadership over the appointment.

By the end of October, a new spymaster was in place but it appeared that the damage had been done. Smelling blood in the water, the PDM decided to strike, and in February 2022 formally announced that it would be filing a no-confidence motion against Imran.

March 8, 2022: Opposition submits no-trust motion against Imran

Confident that it had the requisite numbers, a delegation of senior opposition lawmakers — including PML-N’s Marriyum Aurangzeb, Rana Sanaullah, Ayaz Sadiq and PPP’s Shazia Marri — submitted the no-trust motion against Imran with the National Assembly Secretariat as Asad Qaiser, the NA speaker, was not present at the time.

The opposition submitted two sets of documents, one under Article 54 of the Constitution to requisition the lower house of parliament because it was not in session, and the other a resolution calling for a no-confidence vote against the prime minister.

According to PML-N’s Marriyum, a total of 102 members had signed the requisition notice whereas the resolution carried 152 signatures.

Later the same day, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari and PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressed a press conference to formally announce the opposition’s move.

March 17, 2022: PTI dissidents cause a storm

Lawmakers from the ruling PTI, who had been seeking refuge at Sindh House, in Islamabad revealed themselves, proving that the opposition’s claims of having won over members of the ruling coalition were indeed true.

The revelation came as the government accused the opposition of buying the loyalties of its lawmakers ahead of the no-trust vote.

Most of the individuals, which included members of the so-called Jehangir Tareen group and who joined the PTI before the 2018 elections, claimed that they were staying at the facility of their own volition and they decided to go there after observing some “suspicious activities and receiving threats” while staying at the Parliament Lodges.

All of them refuted allegations that they had been offered money to make the opposition’s no-trust move a success. The members, however, were coy when asked if they had decided to vote in support of the opposition’s no-trust resolution against the prime minister, stating that they would vote according to their “conscience.”

March 20, 2022: NA speaker summons session for March 25

Under the Constitution, NA Speaker Qaiser was bound to call the session by March 21 — within 14 days after the opposition’s requisition. However, a day before the constitutional deadline, he summoned the session to deliberate on the no-confidence resolution against Imran on March 25.

Qaiser gave the excuse that it would not be possible to convene the session due to the fact that the three-day conference of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) would be held in the NA hall.

The opposition had initially threatened to disrupt the OIC meeting but later climbed down by saying that domestic politics would not be allowed to affect the event.

March 25, 2022: NA session adjourned without tabling of no-trust motion

When the NA session finally rolled around, it was more of a fizz rather than a bang. The much-anticipated session was adjourned shortly after it began without the tabling of the resolution despite it being present on the agenda.

The reason? The death of MNA Khayal Zaman who had passed away earlier in February.

Parliamentary tradition dictates that the first NA sitting after the death of a lawmaker is limited to prayers for the departed and the tributes fellow MNAs wish to pay them.

Therefore, in accordance with the aforementioned custom, Qaiser adjourned the session — which lasted a total of 15 minutes — until March 28, much to the opposition’s chagrin. However, before leaving the chamber, the NA speaker asserted that he would conduct proceedings “as per rules and procedures” as the opposition accused him of being partisan.

March 27, 2022: Imran sees ‘foreign plot’ behind move to oust him

The government — which appeared to have masked its panic with bravado — had for the past few weeks been hinting that Imran had a “trump card” up his sleeve to derail the no-confidence motion, a claim that the opposition had disregarded as a hollow threat.

On March 27, Imran made his countermove during the party’s power show in Islamabad titled Amr Bil Maroof (enjoin the good). In a nearly two-hour-long speech, he alleged that the no-trust move was part of a “foreign-funded conspiracy” hatched against his government over his refusal to have Pakistan’s foreign policy be influenced from abroad.

“Attempts are being made to influence our foreign policy from abroad. We have been aware of this conspiracy for months. We also know about those who have assembled these people (the opposition parties) but the time has changed. This is not the era of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

“This is the era of social media. Nothing can be hidden. We will not accept anyone’s dictation. We will have friendships with everyone but we will not submit ourselves to anyone.

“Attempts are being made through foreign money to change the government in Pakistan. Our people are being used. Mostly inadvertently, but some people are using money against us. We know from what places attempts are being to pressure us. We have been threatened in writing but we will not compromise on national interest.”

The prime minister also claimed to be in possession of evidence — a letter — that he said would prove his point, which he waved in his hand during his speech.

The letter in question would later be revealed to be a coded diplomatic cable.

“I am placing the case of Pakistan’s independence before you. The letter I have is proof and I want to dare anyone who is doubting this letter. I will invite them off the record. We have to decide how long we will have to live like this. We are getting threats. There are many things about the foreign conspiracy which will be shared very soon,” he had said.

March 30, 2022: Imran decides to lift lid on ‘secret letter’ in NA; PTI’s NA majority comes crashing down

The death knell for the PTI sounded when, in addition to its own lawmakers turning their backs on the party, its coalition partners also started to abandon ship.

The Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) had decided to part ways with the PTI government in June 2020. The Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) crossed over to the opposition on March 29 followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) on March 30, virtually costing the PTI its majority in the 342-strong National Assembly.

Alarmed by the swift exits of his coalition partners, the premier decided to present the so-called “secret letter” — which has since been rebranded as the “cipher”, a coded diplomatic cable — before the lower house of Parliament in the hopes of swaying party dissidents and disgruntled allies.

He shared the letter with the cabinet members in a hurriedly called meeting which was not attended by the BAP or MQM-P despite being invited.

Imran also called a select group of TV anchors and informed them about the contents of the letter in question. He said that “the language of the letter was threatening and arrogant” and that Pakistan would face dire consequences if the no-confidence motion failed. He did not show them the letter.

March 31, 2022: NA session adjourned once more and Imran’s Freudian slip

To no one’s surprise, the NA session was adjourned yet again, this time to April 3, mere minutes after it began. During the session, opposition lawmakers continued to insist that the speaker call for the vote amid chants of “go Imran go”.

NA Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who was chairing the session, adjourned it after terming the opposition’s attitude “non-serious”.

Speaking to the media outside the NA shortly after, then leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif accused the deputy speaker of violating the Constitution in what can perhaps, in hindsight, be called foreshadowing.

The same day, the National Security Committee (NSC), chaired by Imran, decided issued a “strong demarche” to a country, that it did not name, over the “threat letter”, terming it “blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan”.

As if that wasn’t enough news for one day, Imran also addressed the nation and warned the party’s dissidents and political rivals that the country’s future generations would neither forgive them nor their “handlers”.

More importantly, in what appeared to be a slip of tongue, the prime minister named the United States as the country that was reportedly behind the “threat letter”, only to quickly correct himself and say that it was some other country and not America.

April 3, 2022: No-confidence move scuttled, NA dissolved

After having been blocked from taking up the no-trust motion several times, this time around the opposition was taking no chances.

Hours before the session began, the opposition moved a no-trust move against NA Speaker Qaiser. The resolution, termed a “surprise” by PPP’s Bilawal, carried the signatures of more than 100 lawmakers.

The mantle of chairing the NA session fell on the shoulders of the deputy speaker. The atmosphere in the newsroom was buzzing with anticipation as all eyes were on the NA, where the treasury and opposition lawmakers arrived in their Sunday best.

Addressing the House shortly after the session began, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who had taken the additional charge of the law ministry a day earlier, said that loyalty to the state was the basic duty of every citizen under Article 5. He also reiterated Imran’s claims that a foreign conspiracy was behind the move to oust the government.

“On March 7, our official ambassador was invited to a meeting attended by the representatives of other countries. The meeting was told that a motion against PM Imran was being presented,” he said, noting that this occurred a day before the opposition formally filed the no-trust move.

“We were told that relations with Pakistan were dependent on the success of the no-confidence motion. We were told that if the motion fails, then Pakistan’s path would be very difficult. This is an operation for a regime change by a foreign government,” he alleged.

The minister questioned how this could be allowed and called on the deputy speaker to decide the constitutionality of the no-trust move.

Terming the points raised by Fawad to be “valid”, Suri — in a shock move — dismissed the no-trust move, saying that “no foreign power shall be allowed to topple an elected government through a conspiracy” and proroguing the session which lasted barely ten minutes.

The opposition roared in protest against Suri’s move.

And then the prime minister decided to appear on television to announce that he had advised President Arif Alvi to dissolve the lower house of Parliament, which he did, and called on the nation to prepare for elections.

The opposition dubbed the NA deputy speaker’s move as “nothing short of high treason”, alleged that Imran had pushed the country to the precipice and called on the Supreme Court to take notice.

Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial (CJP) then stepped in to take suo motu notice of the situation, and said that all orders and actions initiated by the prime minister and president regarding the dissolution of the NA would be subject to the court’s order.

After the session was prorogued, a number of PTI leaders rushed to the Prime Minister’s Office to felicitate Imran on his “master move”. In televised remarks to parliamentarians, Imran shared more details of the foreign conspiracy and named the US official behind the alleged threat.

Read: Can the PM’s claims of a foreign plot against his govt be described as self-obsessed?

April 7, 2022: SC restores NA, orders no-trust vote against Imran to be held

After five days of conducting marathon hearings, the country’s top court set aside the NA deputy speaker’s ruling, with all five judges unanimously voting against it.

The court, in its short order, ruled that the deputy speaker’s ruling was “contrary to the Constitution and the law and of no legal effect, and the same are hereby set aside”.

The apex court also ruled that the president’s decision to dissolve the NA was also “contrary to the Constitution and the law and of no legal effect”, noting that the prime minister could not have advised the president to dissolve the assembly as he continues to remain under the bar imposed under clause (1) of Article 58 of the Constitution — which prevents such moves when no-confidence proceedings are set in motion.

“It is further declared that the [National] Assembly was in existence at all times, and continues to remain and be so,” the short order added. The SC also directed to reconvene the NA on April 9 no later than 10:30am saying that the session could not be prorogued without the conclusion of the no-trust motion against Imran.

A jubilant opposition lauded the victory of “democracy and the Constitution”, while freshly restored premier Imran accepted the verdict issued by the top court but vowed to not accept what he termed as an “imported government” — a phrase that has since become a part of his and his party’s vocabulary.

Comment: Death of necessity — 5 days that captivated the nation

April 9-10, 2022: Imran booted out of office, welcome back to ‘Purana Pakistan’

The NA session began at 10:30am and went on past midnight, being adjourned at least four times as the opposition and treasury benches went back and forth with the latter intent on dragging out proceedings for as long as humanly, and constitutionally, possible.

While a scant number of members of the treasury benches were in attendance, the opposition was out in full force, while Imran had seemingly gone incognito.

Minutes before the clock struck midnight, signalling the end of the court’s deadline for voting on the motion, NA Speaker Qaiser resigned from his post, saying he could not take part in a foreign conspiracy to oust the premier.

PML-N’s Ayaz Sadiq then donned the speaker’s robes and chaired the NA session, as he had done many times before as the speaker, with the opposition’s no-trust motion against Imran succeeding an hour past midnight with 174 members voting in favour of the resolution, making the PTI chief the first premier to be ousted through a no-confidence vote.

All government members but Ali Muhammad Khan walked out of the house and boycotted the session after Qaiser announced his resignation as speaker. Once the vote was finalised, he chose to make an impassioned last-stand speech, vowing that his leader would return as premier with a two-thirds majority.

Imran, who had largely avoided attending NA proceedings during his tenure as premier, remained camped out at the Prime Minister’s Office the entire day and left the PMO that night.

Large protests erupted that same night in nearly two dozen cities, including Imran’s urban power bases, which would mark the beginning of the “freedom struggle”.

PTI supporters carry out a protest in Lower Dir’s Timergara on Sunday. — PTI Twitter
PTI supporters carry out a protest in Lower Dir’s Timergara on Sunday. — PTI Twitter

April 11: Shehbaz Sharif made prime minister

After successfully ousting Imran, the PDM decided that PML-N’s Shehbaz would be appointed as premier. In a session called at 2pm, Shehbaz secured 174 votes in a one-sided election after the PTI announced the en masse resignation of its lawmakers.

The premier made a host of promises in his maiden speech, and also vowed to call another meeting of the NSC to discuss the purported “threat letter”.

Imran, now in the opposition, was notably missing yet again from the proceedings although he did chair a meeting of the PTI’s parliamentary committee prior to the session.


Since being booted from power, Imran has flayed the ruling coalition over its failure to deal with a multitude of crises, which the latter claims were all a result of the PTI setup’s own policies.

Over the past year, he has staged at least two long marches to Islamabad — the ‘Azadi March’, which fizzled out after reaching the capital, and the ‘Haqeeqi Azadi March’, in which the PTI chief nearly lost his life.

Imran’s acrimonious split with the establishment, which was up until the no-trust move whispers, was also confirmed as he chose to turn his guns towards ex-army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa after the latter’s retirement, and accused him of instigating the Americans against him. He also alleged that Bajwa — who retired in November last year — was a “super king” and admitted that his stint as premier was akin to that of a puppet. (Bajwa isn’t holding back either.)

Imran has also continued with his demands for holding elections in the country, for which he also dissolved the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — where his party was in power.