By Asif Shahzad and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistan’s top court could rule on Thursday on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s move to block an opposition attempt to oust him, a step his critics say is unconstitutional and has touched off political turmoil.
Khan, a former cricket star, lost his parliamentary majority last week and had faced a no-confidence vote tabled by the opposition that he was expected to lose on Sunday.
But the deputy speaker of parliament, a member of Khan’s party, threw out the motion, ruling it was part of a foreign conspiracy and unconstitutional. Khan then dissolved parliament.
The stand-off has thrown the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people, ruled by the military for extended periods since independence in 1947, into a full-blown constitutional crisis.
The opposition has challenged the decision to block the vote in the Supreme Court, which began deliberating the case on Monday. On Wednesday, lawyers for Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party launched their defence.
Ali Zafar, a lawyer for President Arif Alvi who is a party ally of Khan, said the court should not involve itself in parliamentary procedure.
“My humble submission would be that if your lordships start monitoring parliamentary affairs, there would be no end to that,” he told the panel of five judges.
The Supreme Court will reconvene on Thursday at around 9:30 a.m. (0430 GMT). Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said on Wednesday he wanted to wrap up the hearings. “Let’s start early from tomorrow to conclude the case,” he said.
The court could order parliament to be reconstituted, call for fresh elections, or bar Khan from power if he is found to have violated the constitution.
It could also decide that it cannot intervene in parliamentary affairs.
Pakistan’s military is facing growing calls from the opposition to weigh in on the legitimacy of Khan’s complaints about a foreign plot against him, which he said was being orchestrated by the United States.
Washington dismissed the accusation.
Khan, like many Pakistanis, criticised the 20-year-long U.S. intervention in neighbouring Afghanistan, which came to an end in August last year with the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces and the return of the Islamist Taliban to power.
A senior opposition leader, Maryam Nawaz, said the military should publicly clarify whether it had told a top-level security meeting that the United States had conspired with the opposition to topple his government, as Khan has said it did.
“Imran Khan has used the National Security Committee for his political gains,” she said late on Tuesday.
An official with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified, told Reuters on Tuesday that security agencies had found no credible evidence to confirm Khan’s complaint of a conspiracy..
The Pakistan military’s public relations wing and Khan’s former information minister, Fawad Chaudhry, did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment on the matter.
The military has stepped in to remove civilian governments and take over on three occasions, citing the need to end political uncertainty, though the current military command says it is not involved in politics or in the current situation.
As the court considers the legality of the political manoeuvring, Khan’s decision to dissolve parliament and call a general election is moving forward with President Alvi asking the Election Commission to think about a date for a vote, which should be within 90 days of the April 3 dissolution.
But analysts say the process is not clear because a Supreme Court ruling against Khan would also throw into question his calling of a snap election.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam in IslamabadWriting by Alasdair PalEditing by Robert Birsel)