Pakistan PM Khan to seek court ruling over defections ahead of no-confidence vote

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Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid/File Photo

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ISLAMABAD, March 18 (Reuters) - The Pakistani government will petition the Supreme Court to seek a ruling on whether defectors from Prime Minister Imran Khan's party could lose their seats ahead of a no-confidence vote against him, his interior minister said on Friday.

The threat of political turmoil in the nuclear armed nation is growing as the opposition seeks to oust Khan in a vote that could come as soon as this month.

Several of Khan's lawmakers withdrew their support for him on Thursday, stoking more uncertainty over whether the former cricket star can hang on to power, following a warning by a key ally that the premier could lose his coalition partners. read more

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Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad told a news conference it had been decided to seek the Supreme Court's ruling about whether the defectors are eligible to cast a vote after switching sides.

Ahmad said the decision was taken in a meeting chaired by Khan. He did not say when the petition would be filed.

"I want to ask all of you to get back ... We wouldn't do anything against you," he said in an appeal to the dissidents.

The dissidents are being issued a show-cause notice, Khan's Cabinet minister Asad Umar said.

A handful of ruling party workers led by two lawmakers stormed a place in Islamabad where the dissidents have been housed by opposition parties, interior minister Ahmad said, adding that they had broken open the main gate.

The two ruling party lawmakers and several workers were arrested by the police, he said. "It is serious. We can't allow this," he said.

Under Pakistan's floor-crossing law, parliamentarians who defect could lose their seats if they then choose to vote against their party, but what Khan's government is trying to see is whether that is also applicable before they cast votes.

"You know only murder isn't a crime, an attempted murder is also a crime," the minister said.

The opposition blames Khan for mismanaging the country, economy and foreign policy. No Pakistani prime minister has ever

completed his term in office. read more

Without the coalition partners and the dissidents, Khan's party, which has 155 seats in the lower house, would fall short

of the 172 needed to retain power. The joint opposition has a strength of nearly 163 in the lower house.

The opposition and political analysts say Khan has fallen out with Pakistan's powerful military, whose support they see as critical for any political party to attain power in the way the former cricketer upstart party did four years ago.

Khan and the military deny the accusation.

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Reporting by Asif Shahzad, Editing by William Maclean

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